TomatoesLycopene is a bright red pigment, a carotenoid, that is found in red fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes, red carrots, and watermelon. Surprisingly, it is not found in strawberries or cherries. Unlike other carotenoids it does not contribute to vitamin A production in the body. Lycopene is also to be found in non-red vegetables such as asparagus and parsley.

The concentration of lycopene in tomatoes increases as the fruit ripens, and when tomatoes are cooked to make tomato sauce or tomato paste, the lycopene is up to four times more absorbable by the body.1 Because, like other carotenoids, lycopene is fat-soluble, preparing it with a bit of olive oil, as popular ragu sauces, helps digestion and allows the nutrient to be absorbed from the digestive system into the bloodstream.

Antioxidant. Lycopene is the most powerful antioxidant in the carotene family. Researchers describe it as the "most efficient biological carotenoid singlet-oxygen quencher."5 Some researchers feel that its benefit comes indirectly from the lycopenoids produced by lycopene, rather than its own antioxidant capacity.6

Macular degeneration, cataract. As a carotenoid, lycopene helps to fight free radicals. Quite a bit of research indicates that it helps lower the risk of macular degeneration2, 3 and cataract4 and that low levels of lycopene are associated with a higher risk of age-related macular degeneration.9

Inflammation. Lycopene is protective against nerve inflammation7 caused by oxidative stress. Free radicals cause oxidative stress, which in turn damages and inflames healthy nerve cells. It is possible that this finding will point towards more effective therapies for optic neuritis and other eye conditions that involve inflammation of the optic nerve.

Diabetic retinopathy. Patients with diabetes have significantly lower levels of lycopene.8 Diabetic retinopathy is a common complication of type 2 diabetes.

Cancer. Lycopene appears to decrease side effects of cancer treatment drugs that damage the kidneys.10 A study of nearly 50,000 men found a lowered risk of prostate cancer in men with high levels of lycopene in their diet (tomatoes). The greater the amount of lycopene in their diet, the greater the protection.11 Research results for some cancers are mixed.

Cardiovascular conditions. Oxidation of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is associated with increased risk of atherosclerosis and heart disease. Lycopene, found in high amounts in tomatoes, reduces LDL oxidation,12, 13 though it does not reduce cholesterol levels. This benefit is amplified when lycopene is consumed through whole tomatoes or accompanied by alpha-tocopherol,14 a type of vitamin E. Additionally, tomato extract reduces platelet clotting, reducing the risk of cardiovascular events15, 16 and stroke (by 55–59%, compared to controls).17, 18

Bone integrity. The diets of nearly a thousand patients were evaluated with respect to 13–16-year fracture records. Patients who had consumed the highest levels of carotenoids during that period had the lowest levels of fractures. Lycopene consumption was responsible for a slightly greater protection from hip fracture.19 At issue in bone structure integrity is bone resorption. This means that bone deteriorates, and the composite minerals are released into the blood. A study in post-menopausal women found that lycopene supplementation helped reduce the biomarkers that indicate the presence of oxidative-stress and bone resorption.20

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1. E. Capanoglu, Home processing of tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum): Effects on in vitro bioaccessibility of total lycopene, phenolics, flavonoids, and antioxidant capacity, Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, 2014.
2. Lutein & Zeaxanthin ('90s, '00-'08, 2016): Macular Degeneration
3. Low Lycopene Levels related to ARMD
4. Antioxidants (1998, 2001-2, '05, 2013) and Cataract Prevention
5. Di Mascio, P., Kaiser, S., Sies, H. (1989). Lycopene as the most efficient biological carotenoid singlet oxygen quencher. Arch Biochem Biophys, Nov 1;274(2):532-8.
6. Erdman, J.W., Ford, N.A., Lindshield, B.L. (2009). Are the health attributes of lycopene related to its antioxidant function? Arch Biochem Biophys, Mar 15;483(2):229-35.
7. Zhao, B., Ren, B., Guo, R., Zhang, W., Ma, S., et al, (2017). Supplementation of lycopene attenuates oxidative stress induced neuroinflammation and cognitive impairment via Nrf2/NF-κB transcriptional pathway. Food Chem Toxicol, Nov;109(Pt 1):505-516.
8. Li, Z.Z., Lu, X.Z., Ma, C.C., Chen, L. (2010). Serum lycopene levels in patients with diabetic retinopathy. Eur J Ophthalmol, Jul-Aug;20(4):719-23.
9. Mares-Perlman, J.A., Brady, W.E., Klein, R., Klein, B.E., Bowen, P., et al. (1995). Serum antioxidants and age-related macular degeneration in a population-based case-control study. Arch Opthalmol, Dec;113(12):1518-23.
10. Mahmoodnia, L., Mohammadi, K., Masumi, R. (2017). Ameliorative effect of lycopene effect on cisplatin-induced nephropathy in patient. J Nephropathol, Jul;6(3):144-149.
11. Giovannucci, E., Ascherio, A., Rimm, E.B., Stampfer, M.J., Golditz, G.A., et al, (1995). Intake of carotenoids and retinol in relation to risk of prostate cancer. J Natl Cancer Inst, Dec 6;87(23):1767-76.
12. Agarwal, S., Rao, A.V. (1998). Tomato lycopene and low density lipoprotein oxidation: a human dietary intervention study. Lipids, Oct;33(10):981-4.
13. Hadley, C.W., Clinton, S.K., Schwartz, S.J. (2003). The consumption of processed tomato products enhances plasma lycopene concentrations in association with a reduced lipoprotein sensitivity to oxidative damage. J Nutr, Mar;133(3):727-32.
14. Balestrieri, M.L., De Prisco, R., Nicolaus, B., Pari, P., Moriello, V.S., et al. (2004). Lycopene in association with alpha-tocopherol or tomato lipophilic extracts enhances acyl-platelet-activating factor biosynthesis in endothelial cells during oxidative stress. Free Radic Biol Med, Apr 15;36(8):1058-67.
15. Dutta-Roy, A.K., Crosbie, L., Gordon, M.J. (2001). Effects of tomato extract on human platelet aggregation in vitro. Platelets, Jun;12(4):218-27.
16. Xu, X., Zhu, M., Hu, M. (2011). Effects of lycopene on blood cells and fibrinolytic activity in hyperlipidemic rats. Wei Sheng Yan Jiu, Sep;40(5):620-3.
17. Hsiao, G., Wang, Y., Tzu, N.H., Fong, T.H., Shen, M.Y., et al. (2005). Inhibitory effects of lycopene on in vitro platelet activation and in vivo prevention of thrombus formation. J Lab Clin Med, Oct;146(4):216-26.
18. Karppi, J., Laukkanen, J.A., Sivenius, J., Ronkainen, K., Kurl, S. (2012). Serum lycopene decreases the risk of stroke in men: a population-based follow-up study. Neurology, Oct 9:79(15):1540-1547.
19. Sahni, S., Hannan, M.T., Blumberg, J., Cupples, L.A., Kiel, D.P., et al, (2009). Protective effect of total carotenoid and lycopene intake on the risk of hip fracture: a 17-year follow-up from the Framingham Osteoporosis Study. J Bone Miner Res, Jun;24(6):1086-94.
20. Mackinnon, E.S., Rao, A.V., Josse, R.G., Rao, L.G. (2011). Supplementation with the antioxidant lycopene significantly decreases oxidative stress parameters and the bone resorption marker N-telopeptide of type I collagen in postmenopausal women. Osteoporos Int, Apr;22(4):1091-101.