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Lycopene

Lycopene  

Natural Standard Monograph, Copyright © 2013 (www.naturalstandard.com). Commercial distribution prohibited. This monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. You should consult with a qualified health care professional before making decisions about therapies and/or health conditions.

Related Terms

  • ψ, ψ-carotene, all-trans lycopene, Lyc-o-Mato, Lycopersicon, Lycopersicon esculentum, LycoRed, prolycopene, psi, psi-carotene, solanorubin, tangerine tomatoes, tomato, tomato paste.

Background

  • Lycopene is a carotenoid present in human serum and skin as well as the liver, adrenal glands, lungs, prostate and colon. Lycopene has been found to possess antioxidant and antiproliferative properties in animal and laboratory studies, although activity in humans remains controversial.
  • Numerous studies correlate high intake of lycopene-containing foods or high lycopene serum levels with reduced incidence of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and macular degeneration. However, estimates of lycopene consumption have been based on reported tomato intake, not on the use of lycopene supplements. Since tomatoes are sources of other nutrients, including vitamin C, folate, and potassium, it is not clear that lycopene itself is beneficial.
  • There is no well-established definition of "lycopene deficiency," and direct evidence that repletion of low lycopene levels has any benefit is lacking.

Evidence

 

Uses based on scientific evidence 

These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare professional.

Grade* 

Antioxidant 

Laboratory research suggests that lycopene, like other carotenoids, may have antioxidant properties. However, it is not clear if lycopene has these effects in the human body. Results of different studies do not agree with each other and better research is needed before a firm conclusion can be drawn.

C 

Asthma caused by exercise 

Laboratory research suggests that lycopene, like other carotenoids, may have antioxidant properties. It has been suggested that antioxidants may be helpful in the prevention of asthma that is caused by exercise. There is limited, poor-quality research in this area and further evidence is needed before a recommendation can be made.

C 

Atherosclerosis (coronary artery disease) 

It has been suggested that lycopene may be helpful in people with atherosclerosis or high cholesterol, possibly due to antioxidant properties. Several studies have been published in this area, most using tomato juice as a treatment. Results have not agreed with each other, and this issue remains unclear.

C 

Benign prostate hyperplasia (BPH) 

Patients diagnosed with BPH or enlarged prostate are at increased risk of developing prostate cancer and may benefit from taking lycopene supplements. Initial evidence suggests that lycopene may help prevent disease progression in BPH. Further studies are necessary before lycopene may be recommended.

C 

Breast cancer prevention 

Research in animals and observations of large human populations have examined the relationship between developing breast cancer and tomato intake or lycopene levels in the body. The evidence in this area is not clear, and further studies are needed before a firm conclusion can be drawn.

C 

Cancer prevention (general) 

Studies have examined large populations to identify the lifestyle factors that affect health. Many of these studies suggest a link between diets high in fruits and vegetables and a decreased risk of developing cancer. However, it is not entirely clear which foods are most beneficial, or if reduced cancer is due to other (non-dietary) aspects of a "healthy lifestyle."

C 

Cervical cancer prevention 

Observations of large human populations suggest possible benefits of tomato product intake in preventing cervical cancer. However, other studies report no benefits. Research that specifically studies lycopene supplements is lacking.

C 

Eye disorders (age-related macular degeneration prevention, cataracts) 

Based on antioxidant properties observed in laboratory studies, lycopene has been suggested as a preventive therapy for age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and cataracts. However, recent studies have not found a clear benefit.

C 

Gastrointestinal tract and colorectal cancer prevention 

Multiple studies have investigated whether intake of tomatoes or tomato-based products helps prevent digestive tract cancers, including oral, pharyngeal, esophageal, gastric, colon, and rectal. Results have been inconsistent with some studies reporting significant benefits and others finding no effects. Research that specifically studies lycopene supplements is limited, and more research is needed in this area before a firm conclusion can be drawn.

C 

Gingivitis 

There is some evidence that lycopene, administered systemically, may be an effective treatment for gingivitis. Further studies are needed to support these early findings and to examine lycopene in combination with other gingivitis treatments.

C 

High blood pressure 

There is some evidence that short-term treatments of lycopene may reduce blood pressure. More research is needed, especially to examine the long-term effects of lycopene on blood pressure.

C 

High blood pressure associated with pregnancy (pre-eclampsia) 

Based on early study, lycopene may reduce the development of pre-eclampsia and intrauterine growth retardation in women having their first child. Further research is needed to confirm these results.

C 

Infertility 

Based on early study, taking lycopene seems to have a role in the management of idiopathic male infertility. Further research is needed to confirm these results.

C 

Kidney disease 

There is very limited evidence that lycopene supplements may not reduce the risks of renal cell cancer, which affects the kidneys. Additional research is needed.

C 

Lung cancer prevention 

Several studies observing large populations report a lower risk of developing lung cancer in people who regularly eat tomatoes. However, other studies report no benefits of tomato consumption. Research that specifically studies lycopene supplements is lacking.

C 

Oral mucositis 

Limited evidence suggests that lycopene, and lycopene and steroids, may help patients with oral submucous fibrosis.

C 

Ovarian cancer (prevention) 

Based on population studies, lycopene intake in food seems to decrease the risk for ovarian cancer. However, research that specifically examines lycopene supplementation and ovarian cancer risk is lacking.

C 

Prostate cancer 

Studies of large populations report mixed results as to whether eating tomatoes/tomato-based products reduces the risk of developing prostate cancer. There is some evidence that lycopene may slow the progression of prostate cancer. Research that specifically studies lycopene supplements is limited.

C 

Sun protection 

Lycopene in combination with other carotenoids, such as beta-carotene, vitamins C and E, selenium, and proanthocyanidins, may help in reducing sunburn. Selected protective effects from UV rays have been observed in small, short-term studies. More research is needed before a firm conclusion can be drawn.

C 

Immune stimulation 

It has been proposed that lycopene and other carotenoids, such as beta-carotene, may stimulate the immune system. However, several studies of lycopene supplements and tomato juice intake in humans report no effects on the immune system.

D 

Lung function after exercise 

A daily dose of lycopene for one week does not seem to affect lung function after exercise and does not provide any protective effect against clinical difficulty in breathing in young athletes.

D 

 

*Key to grades: 

A: Strong scientific evidence for this use;
B: Good scientific evidence for this use;
C: Unclear scientific evidence for this use;
D: Fair scientific evidence against this use (it may not work);
F: Strong scientific evidence against this use (it likely does not work).

For full grading rationale, click here.

Uses based on tradition or theory 

The below uses are based on tradition or scientific theories. They often have not been thoroughly tested in humans, and safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified health care professional

AIDS, breast cancer recurrence/secondary prevention, cognitive function, coronary death prevention, diabetes mellitus, inflammatory conditions, mesothelioma (tumor affecting the lining of the chest or abdomen), melanoma, myocardial infarction prevention, oral leukoplakia (formation of white patches on the tongue or cheek), pancreatitis, Parkinson's disease, periodontal disease, respiratory infections, rheumatoid arthritis, stroke prevention, stomach cancer, urinary tract cancer.


Safety

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not strictly regulate herbs and supplements. There is no guarantee of strength, purity or safety of products, and effects may vary. You should always read product labels. If you have a medical condition, or are taking other drugs, herbs, or supplements, you should speak with a qualified healthcare professional before starting a new therapy. Consult a healthcare professional immediately if you experience side effects.

Allergies

  • Avoid lycopene in individuals with a known allergy/hypersensitivity to lycopene or tomatoes.

Side Effects and Warnings

  • The safety of lycopene supplements has not been thoroughly studied. Review of available scientific literature finds tomatoes, tomato-based products, and lycopene supplements generally well tolerated. However, rare reports of diarrhea, nausea, stomach pain or cramps, gas, vomiting, and loss of appetite have been reported. Tomatoes and tomato-based products may be acidic and irritate stomach ulcers. Lycopene has been associated with death from a cancer-related hemorrhage, although causality is unclear.

Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

  • There is not enough scientific research to recommend the use of lycopene supplements during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Amounts of lycopene found in foods are usually assumed to be safe. Tomato consumption has been shown to increase lycopene concentrations in breast milk and plasma of breastfeeding women.

Interactions

Most herbs and supplements have not been thoroughly tested for interactions with other herbs, supplements, drugs, or foods. The interactions listed below are based on reports in scientific publications, laboratory experiments, or traditional use. You should always read product labels. If you have a medical condition, or are taking other drugs, herbs, or supplements, you should speak with a qualified healthcare professional before starting a new therapy.

Interactions with Drugs

  • Some drugs that lower cholesterol levels in the blood may also reduce the levels of carotenoids such as lycopene. Examples of cholesterol-lowering drugs include "statin" drugs like lovastatin (Mevacor®) or atorvastatin (Lipitor®), cholestyramine (Questran®, Prevalite®, LoCHOLEST®), or colestipol (Cholestid®). It is unknown if replacing lycopene levels with supplements has any benefit in people using these drugs. Some research suggests that lycopene may add to the cholesterol-lowering effects of statin drugs.
  • It is proposed that nicotine (cigarette smoking) and alcohol may lower lycopene levels in the body, although this has not been proven.
  • Based on human study, tomato-based foods may prevent platelet aggregation and thrombosis. Theoretically, lycopene may increase the risk of bleeding when taken with drugs that increase the risk of bleeding. Some examples include aspirin, anticoagulants ("blood thinners") such as warfarin (Coumadin®) or heparin, anti-platelet drugs such as clopidogrel (Plavix®), and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen (Motrin®, Advil®) or naproxen (Naprosyn®, Aleve®).
  • Lycopene may interact with drugs taken for cancer or high blood pressure. Lycopene may also interact with drugs that alter the body's immune response.
  • In theory, lycopene may interact with fertility treatments, photosensitizing agents, or agents that affect the immune system, but these potential interactions have not been thoroughly studied.

Interactions with Herbs and Dietary Supplements

  • Studies report mixed effects of taking lycopene with beta-carotene. Some studies report higher levels of lycopene, while others note no change or decreased levels. Canthaxanthin has been shown to reduce lycopene uptake from dietary sources and its use may result in decreased lycopene levels in the blood.
  • Laboratory studies suggest possible interactions between lycopene and other vitamins or supplements, although the significance of these interactions in the human body is not known. Examples include increased antioxidant effects when lycopene is combined with lutein or decreased growth of cancer-like cells when used with vitamin D or vitamin E.
  • Red palm oil may increase blood levels of lycopene.
  • Based on human study, tomato-based foods may prevent platelet aggregation and thrombosis. Theoretically, lycopene may increase the risk of bleeding when taken with herbs and supplements that are believed to increase the risk of bleeding. Multiple cases of bleeding have been reported with the use of Ginkgo biloba, and fewer cases with garlic and saw palmetto. Numerous other agents may theoretically increase the risk of bleeding, although this has not been proven in most cases.
  • Lycopene may also interact with herbs or supplements taken for cancer, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol and those that alter the body's immune response.
  • It has been suggested that when lycopene and soy isoflavones are taken together, the potential benefits of both supplements may be negated.
  • In theory, lycopene may interact with herbs that affect fertility, photosensitizing agents, or agents that affect the immune system, but these potential interactions have not been thoroughly studied.

Authors

  • This information is based on a professional level monograph edited and peer-reviewed by contributors to the Natural Standard Research Collaboration (www.naturalstandard.com).

Selected References

Natural Standard developed the above evidence-based information based on a systematic review of the available scientific articles. For comprehensive information about alternative and complementary therapies on the professional level, go to www.naturalstandard.com. Selected references are listed below.

  1. Ansari MS, Gupta NP. A comparison of lycopene and orchidectomy vs. orchidectomy alone in the management of advanced prostate cancer. BJU Int 2003;92(4):375-378.
  2. Bowen P, Chen L, Stacewicz-Sapuntzakis M, et al. Tomato sauce supplementation and prostate cancer: lycopene accumulation and modulation of biomarkers of carcinogenesis. Exp Biol Med (Maywood) 2002;227(10):886-893.
  3. Briviba K, Kulling SE, Moseneder J, et al. Effects of supplementing a low-carotenoid diet with a tomato extract for 2 weeks on endogenous levels of DNA single strand breaks and immune functions in healthy non-smokers and smokers. Carcinogenesis 2004;25(12):2373-2378.
  4. Bunker CH, McDonald AC, Evans RW, et al. A randomized trial of lycopene supplementation in Tobago men with high prostate cancer risk. Nutr Cancer 2007;57(2):130-7.
  5. Chandra RV, Prabhuji ML, Roopa DA, et al. Efficacy of lycopene in the treatment of gingivitis: a randomised, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Oral Health Prev Dent 2007;5(4):327-36.
  6. Chong EW, Wong TY, Kreis AJ, et al. Dietary antioxidants and primary prevention of age related macular degeneration: systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ 2007 Oct 13;335(7623):755.
  7. Clark PE, Hall MC, Borden LS Jr, et al. Phase I-II prospective dose-escalating trial of lycopene in patients with biochemical relapse of prostate cancer after definitive local therapy. Urology 2006 Jun;67(6):1257-61.
  8. Gianetti J, Pedrinelli R, Petrucci R, et al. Inverse association between carotid intima-media thickness and the antioxidant lycopene in atherosclerosis. Am Heart J 2002;143(3):467-474.
  9. Giovannucci E, Rimm EB, Liu Y, et al. A prospective study of tomato products, lycopene, and prostate cancer risk. J Natl Cancer Inst 2002;94(5):391-398.
  10. Gupta NP, Kumar R. Lycopene therapy in idiopathic male infertility--a preliminary report. Int Urol Nephrol 2002;34(3):369-372.
  11. Jatoi A, Burch P, Hillman D, et al. A tomato-based, lycopene-containing intervention for androgen-independent prostate cancer: results of a Phase II study from the North Central Cancer Treatment Group. Urology 2007 Feb;69(2):289-94.
  12. Kumar A, Bagewadi A, Keluskar V, et al. Efficacy of lycopene in the management of oral submucous fibrosis. Oral Surg Oral Med Oral Pathol Oral Radiol Endod 2007 Feb;103(2):207-13.
  13. Schwarz S, Obermüller-Jevic UC, Hellmis E, et al. Lycopene inhibits disease progression in patients with benign prostate hyperplasia. J Nutr 2008 Jan;138(1):49-53.
  14. Singh M, Krishanappa R, Bagewadi A, et al. Efficacy of oral lycopene in the treatment of oral leukoplakia. Oral Oncol 2004;40(6):591-596.
  15. Vaishampayan U, Hussain M, Banerjee M, et al. Lycopene and soy isoflavones in the treatment of prostate cancer. Nutr Cancer 2007;59(1):1-7.