Lycopene: The Ketchup Antioxidant
Chester J. Zelasko, Ph.D. | August 21, 2001

The web headline read, "Tomato extract may have a role in slowing prostate cancer." The tomato extract referred to is lycopene, a carotenoid, primarily found in cooked tomatoes. The subjects were men diagnosed with prostate cancer who were scheduled to have their prostate glands surgically removed. This small, well-controlled study examined what effect 30 mg of lycopene taken in supplement form would have on the cellular structure of prostate cancer cells. To the surprise of the investigators, the men who took the lycopene had smaller, less aggressive tumors after only three weeks of supplementation (1). This study adds another piece to the puzzle of the role antioxidant carotenoids play in optimal health.

Two other recent studies examined the positive benefits of lycopene. In a test-tube study, lycopene demonstrated the greatest antimutagenic activity of all antioxidants tested when exposed to specific types of cancer cells (2). While not done in the body (in vivo), this type of study begins to identify the mechanism by which lycopene may work to fight degenerative diseases such as cancer. In the second study (3), low serum-lycopene levels were associated with an increased incidence of cardiovascular events in middle-aged men in the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study. While there have been studies that have not demonstrated any benefits, most research to date has found that lycopene is important for optimal health.

So does that mean that everyone should run out and buy lycopene supplements? Most research has been based on dietary intake, not supplementation. It does not mean that taking a supplement is not effective; it just means we need more research to know for sure. What everyone can do is to increase his or her intake of foods that contain lycopene. Below is a list of lycopene-rich foods, along with lycopene content per serving:

Food
Serving Size
Lycopene
(mg/serving)
Spaghetti Sauce
½ cup
28
Tomato Juice
1 cup
25
Tomato Ketchup
1 tablespoon
3
Tomato Paste
2 tablespoon
14
Tomato Sauce
¼ cup
9
Watermelon
1 cup
4

Research continues to show the benefits of eating more fruits and vegetables. It's not just the fiber, nor the vitamins and minerals, but also the phytonutrients such as lycopene that are beneficial to health. Do as your mother told you: eat your fruits and vegetables. It's one of the keys to optimal health.

For more information on lycopene, check out www.lycopene.org.

References:

  1. Kucuk O, et al. Phase II randomized clinical trial of lycopene supplementation before radical prostatectomy. Cancer
  2. Mure K, Rossman TG. Reduction of spontaneous mutagenesis in mismatch repair-deficient and proficient cells by dietary antioxidants. Mutat Res 480-481(1-2):85-95, 2001.
  3. Rissanen TH, et al. Low serum lycopene concentration is associated with an excess incidence of acute coronary events and stroke: the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study. Br J Nutr 85(6):749-54, 2001.
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