Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant that also reduces blood lipid levels, decreasing cardiovascular and stroke risk; it blocks toxicity from mercury and cadmium to herbicides and pesticides; it reduces aggressive cancer risk and attacks cancer stem cells. Here are 8 benefits of lycopene complete with scientific research references.
What is lycopene
Lycopene is a bright red carotenoid found in tomatoes, watermelons, carrots, red grapefruit, rose hip, sea buckthorn and papaya. Unlike other carotenoids, it cannot convert to vitamin A.
Lycopene is a Tetraterpene. It is insoluble in water. To get it into the blood stream, you must take it with oil or fat. Its natural form is produced in plants and by photosynthetic bacteria and is the all-trans form.
A common ingredient in the Colourful Mediterranean diet, or Rainbow Diet, the lycopene in for example tomatoes, is released in greater quantities by cooking and processing. Tomato paste, for example, has four times the levels of lycopene of a fresh tomato.
Lycopene is non-toxic.
1. Lycopene is a super antioxidant
Lycopene exerts these properties by quenching free-radicals without altering cellular structure, according to research in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (1). The researchers found that it was one of the most potent scavengers of singlet oxygen, a reactive oxygen species (ROS) which causes cell damage. Losing the antioxidant-ROS balance causes oxidative stress. Lycopene can correct this.
2. Lycopene protects against environmental toxins
Lycopene offers a protective benefit against Dichlorvos, DDVP, a chemical widely used in the home and known to cause toxic effects particularly in the liver (2).
In the same year (2016), lycopene was shown to attenuate the toxicity of the herbicide Atrazine (3).
A further study showed lycopene could reduce the neurotoxicity of MSG (4).
Not surprisingly then, in a 2019 review researchers have concluded that lycopene can prevent damage from Environmental toxins, and prevent the harmful effects of a wide variety of toxins, reducing mortality by 37 per cent (5).
3. Lycopene reduces cardiovascular and stroke risk
A 2006 study showed that eating tomatoes with olive oil was hugely beneficial to your lipid profile; a 2012 study showed that lycopene could reduce blood lipid levels especially ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol, while slightly increasing ‘good’ HDL levels; a meta-analysis from Australian researchers showed that 25 mg a day doses reduced LDL levels about the same extent as low dose statins (6).
A meta-analysis in the American Heart Journal concluded that lycopene could reduce the risk of atherosclerosis, and lower blood pressure and hypertension (7).
And a 2014 meta-analysis (8) showed that the higher your blood lycopene levels the greater the reduction in your risk of stroke.
A 2017 review concluded that lycopene could reduce blood lipids and cardiovascular risk (9).
The 2019 review mentioned above (5) concluded that people with the highest serum concentration of Lycopene had a 26 per cent lowered risk of stroke and a 14 per cent lowered risk of cardiovascular disease.
4. Lycopene prevents Chemo toxicity
Far from the old medical myth that antioxidants can reduce the effectiveness of chemotherapy drugs, specific research shows that the powerful antioxidant Lycopene has no effects on common chemo drugs like Doxorubicin and Oxaliplatin. But it does protect the liver, heart and kidneys from their damaging side-effects (10, 11).
5. Lycopene prevents heavy metal damage
There are six or more studies showing that lycopene prevents toxicity to the body and particularly the kidney and brain. For example, there is research with Mercury toxicity (12) and neurotoxicity and Cadmium and kidney toxicity (13).
6. Lycopene is effective against pathogens
Helicobacter pylori is a parasitic bacterium that can colonise the GI tract; its presence is linked with stomach and gastric ulcers, and stomach cancer and gastritis (chronic inflammation). H. pylori is known to increase the ROS damage to gastric epithelial cells, and ROS increases hyperproliferation – the start of carcinogenesis.
A 2019 study from researchers in Korea has shown that lycopene can restrict hyperproliferation (14).
Lycopene has also been shown to have benefits against fungi and yeast infections. One study showed that lycopene could kill Candida albicans through ROS production and thus mitochondrial dysfunction. It also affects the plasma membrane and G2/M cell cycle arrest (15).
Lycopene has also been shown to be effective against E. coli, S. aureus, K. pneumoniae, B. subtilis, P. aeruginosa. Fungi were also attacked; for example Malassezia, which has connections with pancreatic cancer (16).
7. Lycopene blocks glutaminase
Glutaminase is the enzyme which converts glutamine (the amino acid) to glutamate (the fuel source for cancers from prostate to brain cancer). Rather than restrict your glutamine as detailed in the Ketogenic diet (which is impossible anyway because it is a non-essential amino acid; you make it if you don’t have enough), the way to block cancer cells feeding on glutamate is actually to block glutaminase, and lycopene does just that.
Lycopene was found to inhibit CYP2E1 (p-nitrophenol hydroxylase) in rats and to be dose dependent (17).
8. Lycopene attacks cancer stem cells and reduces cancer severity
One of its special attributes is Lycopene is known to be able to attack cancer stem cells. As early as 2011 a review in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry showed that natural compounds including lycopene were effective against a number of different cancer self-renewal pathways, including WNT-beta-catenin, Hedgehog, and Notch, that drive cancer stem cell regrowth (18).
Lycopene has been shown to make prostate cancer less aggressive and fatal once you have it.
A similar finding was shown with pancreatic cancer.
Daily dosage of Lycopene
Depending on the research study, doses vary between 25 and 60 mg per day. Remember to take it with olive oil, whenever possible, and some piperine (black pepper).
- Environ Sci Pollut Res – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27102619/
- Lycopene attenuates MSG and neurotoxicity in rats.
- The Detoxifying effects of Lycopene
- Is Lycopene better than statins?
- Natural antioxidants from tomato extract reduce blood pressure in patients with grade-1 hypertension: A double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot study. Engelhard Y.N., Gazer B., Paran E; Am. Heart J. 2006;151
- Dietary and circulating Lycopene and stroke risk; Xinli Li, 2014. Sci Rep.
- Tomato and lycopene supplementation and cardiovascular risk factors; a meta analysis; Cheng, Ho Ming et al; atherosclerosis.
- Anjos Ferreira AL, Russell RM, Rocha N, et al. Effect of lycopene on doxorubicin-induced cardiotoxicity: an echocardiographic, histological and morphometrical assessment. Basic Clin Pharmacol Toxicol. 2007 Jul;101(1):16-24.
- Karimi G, Ramezani M, Abdi A. Protective effects of lycopene and Yilmaz S, Atessahin A, Sahna E, et al. Protective effect of lycopene on adriamycin-induced cardiotoxicity and nephrotoxicity. Toxicology. 2006 Feb 1;218(2-3):164-71.
- Qu M, Nan X, Gao Z, et al. Protective effects of lycopene against methylmercury-induced neurotoxicity in cultured rat cerebellar granule neurons. Brain Res. 2013 Dec 2;1540:92-102.
- Sharma S, Vijaya P. Ameliorating potential of lycopene against cadmium toxicity in kidney of albino mice. Internation Journal of Advanced Research. 2015;3(2):766-70.
- Park B, Lim JW, Kim H. Lycopene treatment induces apoptosis in Candida albicans.
- Antimicrobial efficacy of lycopene compound against some pathogens; Kavitha G, Kanimozhi K and Paeerselvarn A. International Journal of Current Research.
- The effect of lycopene on the total cytochrome P450, CYP1A2 and CYP2E1; Melva Louisa, Frans D Suyatana et al; MJI.activation of Jak1/Stat3 and WNT-Catenin signalling.
- Hyemin Choi, Dong Gun Lee; Biochemie, 2015, Aug; 115-108; L
- Implications of cancer stem cell theory for cancer chemoprevention by Natural Dietary Compounds; J Nutr. Biochem; 2011, Sep, 22(9). 799-806; Yanyan Li et al.