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Lycopene -- The Other Benefits of this Tomato Antioxidant


Lycopene is a carotenoid with potent antioxidant properties that gives foods like tomatoes, guava, rosehip, watermelon and pink grapefruit their red color.


Eating tomatoes is an excellent way to get your lycopene, but eating them cooked may be even better!

When you eat lycopene, it gets deposited in your liver, lungs, prostate gland, colon and skin, according to "Its concentration in body tissues tends to be higher than all other carotenoids," they say.

Not only that, but it's thought that lycopene is a more effective antioxidant than other carotenoids, including even beta-carotene, meaning this little-known nutrient is one of the healthiest out there.

Why Might You Want to Eat More Lycopene?

  1. It Fights Cancer

    Lycopene has been celebrated for its ability to suppress the growth of tumors. It's thought that cancerous tumors may develop, in part, because cells have poor communication, and lycopene stimulates cell-to-cell communication. Studies suggest that lycopene fights colorectal, prostate, breast, endometrial, lung, and pancreatic cancers.

    In one study in rats, those given lycopene-enriched tomatos developed fewer tumors and had smaller tumor volume than the control rats. Lycopene also attacks free radicals in your body that may trigger cancer.

  2. It Keeps Your Cells Strong, Preventing Disease

    Lycopene is adept at fighting dangerous free radicals, including one in particular --singlet oxygen. According to the World's Healthiest Foods, "Singlet oxygen is a highly reactive free radical formed during normal metabolic processes that reacts with polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are major constituents of cell membranes."

    Lycopene, which is found in your cell membranes, prevents damage to the cells and promotes thickness, strength and fluidity of cell membranes. These membranes help release waste from the cells while keeping toxins out, so keeping them strong is a key part of preventing disease.

  3. It Helps Prevent Wrinkles

    Eating tomato paste, which is rich in lycopene, may help to protect your skin from the sun. According to researchers from the University of Manchester, when study participants ate tomato paste for 12 weeks they were 33 percent more protected against sunlight than those not given tomato paste.

    Lycopene also reduced sun damage to mitochondrial DNA in the skin, which may help to counteract skin aging, such as wrinkles.


Lycopene is one of the nutrition powerhouses behind this summertime favorite.

  1. It Prevents Heart Disease

    Lycopene is such a powerful antioxidant that it even prevents LDL (bad) cholesterol from becoming oxidized. And only after cholesterol is oxidized does it become capable of clogging your arteries and leading to heart disease. So if you eat a lot of lycopene, and cholesterol does not become oxidized, your risk of heart disease plummets.

  2. It Boosts Sperm Count

    One study of 30 infertile men found that a diet supplemented with lycopene increased the men's sperm concentration and motility significantly. In fact, six pregnancies resulted after the trial.

How to Get the Most Lycopene

Lycopene is found in tomatoes, guava, apricots, watermelon, papaya, and pink grapefruit. Aside from including plenty of these fruits in your diet, you can maximize your intake of lycopene by:

  • Eating cooked tomato products. Cooked tomatoes are thought to be a more concentrated source of lycopene than raw ones. Though more research is needed in this area, foods that have been processed at high temperatures (such as tomato paste and tomato juice) may allow your body to absorb more lycopene than eating a raw tomato.

  • Eating tomato products with oil. Lycopene is a fat-soluble nutrient, meaning you need to eat it wit some fat in order for it to be properly absorbed. Making homemade tomato sauces with olive oil would be an ideal source.

  • Choosing organic ketchup. Ketchup is a good source of lycopene, particularly if you go organic (organic ketchup contains about three times as much lycopene as non-organic brands).

Recommended Reading

Eight Key Nutrients to Help Prevent Breast Cancer -- and Where to Find Them

Papaya: The Delicious Powerhouse Fruit that Can Help Prevent Heart Disease, Cancer


The World's Healthiest Foods

The Independent April 29, 2008

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