What is Lycopene?

Lycopene is a carotenoid. Carotenoids are pigments found in plants. Lycopene is found in watermelons, pink grapefruits, apricots, and tomatoes.

As an antioxidant, lycopene scavenges harmful oxygen-containing molecules (known as free radicals) that damage cells, causing inflammation. Free radicals are believed to contribute to the development of cancer and other chronic diseases.

Interestingly, cooked tomatoes may be a better source of lycopene than raw tomatoes. This is because cooking breaks down the cell walls of tomatoes, making the lycopene easier for your body to absorb.

Lycopene has been linked with several health benefits, including a reduced risk of heart disease and cancer. Here are 8 science-based health benefits of lycopene.

1. May Reduce the Risk of Heart Disease

Lycopene is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease.

One large study looked at the diets of over 1,000 adults and found that those who ate the most lycopene-rich foods had a significantly lower risk of death from heart disease over an 11-year period.

Another study examined the effect of lycopene supplements on markers of heart disease. After eight weeks, participants taking lycopene had lower levels of oxidized LDL cholesterol and inflammation, both of which are linked to an increased risk of heart disease.

2. May Help Prevent Cancer

Lycopene has been linked with a reduced risk of several types of cancer, including prostate, breast, endometrial (uterine), lung and stomach cancers.

A large review of over 100 studies concluded that lycopene may help prevent various types of cancer.

3. Might Lower Blood Pressure

Lycopene might help lower blood pressure in people with high blood pressure, according to a small study in 36 adults. After eight weeks, those taking lycopene had significantly lower blood pressure than the control group.

4. Might Protect Against Sun damage

Lycopene might help protect your skin against sun damage. In one study, people who took lycopene supplements for 12 weeks had increased skin protection against the sun’s harmful UV rays.

5. May Improve Cholesterol Levels

Lycopene may help improve cholesterol levels.

In a small study in 20 adults, those taking lycopene supplements for eight weeks had significantly lower LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol levels, compared to the control group.

6. Might Boost Bone Health

Lycopene might also play a role in bone health. One study showed that rats given lycopene supplements had greater bone density and strength than those in the control group.

7. Might Help Treat Asthma

Lycopene might help treat asthma. In one study, children with asthma who took lycopene supplements for three months had significantly fewer asthma symptoms than the control group.

8. Could Have Other Benefits

Lycopene might also have other benefits, such as reducing the risk of macular degeneration — a common cause of blindness — and improving memory and cognitive function.

Side Effects & Safety

Lycopene is LIKELY SAFE for most people when taken by mouth in appropriate amounts. Lycopene is POSSIBLY SAFE when used on the skin.

Lycopene supplements are generally well tolerated. Some side effects that have been reported include heartburn, diarrhea, bloating and gas.

When applied to the skin, lycopene might cause temporary redness.

Lycopene is POSSIBLY UNSAFE for people who have had bypass surgery. Taking large amounts of lycopene might increase the risk of bleeding after surgery. It’s best to avoid using large amounts of lycopene if you’ve had bypass surgery.

Pregnant and breast-feeding women should avoid using lycopene supplements.

Dosage & Supplements

The best way to get the required amount of lycopene is by eating lycopene-rich foods. Good sources include cooked tomatoes, watermelon, pink grapefruit, apricots and papaya.

If you can’t get enough lycopene from your diet or want to take a supplement for its potential health benefits, the recommended dose is as follows:

For heart disease prevention: 15–30 mg per day

For cancer prevention: 2–10 mg per day

For sun protection: 6 mg per day

Lycopene supplements are available in capsule, tablet and liquid forms.

Pharmacokinetics

Lycopene is a carotenoid that does not convert to vitamin A (retinol) in the body.

It’s absorbed from the small intestine and transported to different tissues via the bloodstream.

Lycopene is stored in the liver, adrenal glands, testes and ovaries. Smaller amounts are also found in the lungs, colon and skin.

The half-life of lycopene is approximately 28 days, which means it takes about four weeks for your body to eliminate half of the lycopene you consume.