What Is Lycopene?
Like lutein and zeaxanthin, lycopene is a carotenoid but its color is the deep rich red you see in tomatoes. In addition to tomatoes, lycopene is found in watermelon, papaya and other red fruits and vegetables.
Lycopene in the Diet
In addition to the fruits mentioned above, lycopene is also available in guava, apricots and pink grapefruit. It is most highly concentrated in tomatoes but seems to be most active after the tomatoes have received some kind of heat treatment. As a result, it may be best to get lycopene from tomato products like tomato sauce and tomato juice.
No dietary requirement for lycopene has been established in the EU or the US. Research studies on the health benefits of lycopene have used doses of between 4 and 12 mg/day. One cup (240 mL) of tomato juice provides about 23 mg of lycopene.
Lycopene and Skin Health
You may be familiar with lycopene because it has been associated with a reduced risk of prostate cancer in several studies. Lycopene, however, has also been shown to be protective for the skin when consumed alone or in combination with other supplements. In one study, higher concentrations of lycopene in the skin were associated with less skin roughness in the foreheads of 40 to 50 year-olds.1 Additional research on lycopene alone has found it to be effective against redness from the sun.2 In several studies, subjects receiving supplements using a combination of beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin and lycopene and other nutrients experienced less erythema–the redness and swelling associated with sunburn–after exposure to UV light.3
Lycopene and Brain Health
Like lutein and zeaxanthin, lycopene is thought to play a role in brain health because of its role as an antioxidant and also because of its presence in the brain. Little research has been done on lycopene specifically, other than to look at whether or not reduced levels of lycopene are associated with various types of dementia. In one study, lycopene levels in the plasma portion of the blood were reduced in patients with Parkinson’s Disease and dementia.4 Two additional studies found lower levels of lycopene–and a number of other antioxidants–in the plasma of Alzheimer’s Disease patient.5,6
1 Eur J Pharm Biopharm. 2008 Aug;69(3):943-7
2 Nutrients. Aug 2010; 2(8): 903–92
3 Am J Clin Nutr 2001;73:853-64
4 QJM. 1999 Jan;92(1):39-45
5 Dement Geriatr Cogn Disord. 2004;18(3-4):265-70
6 J Alzheimers Dis. 2002 Dec;4(6):517-22