Written by Gabriele Dennert and the CAM-Cancer Consortium.
Updated July 26, 2013

Lycopene

What is it?

Description

Lycopene forms the red pigment in fruit such as tomatoes, apricots, guavas, pink grapefruits, rosehips or watermelons 1 and is involved in the photosynthesis of plants, algae and other organisms that actively generate energy through photosynthesis. It is chemically a carotenoid, but is not an essential food ingredient for humans.

In Western countries, tomatoes and tomato products have been found to be the major nutritional source of lycopene for humans.

Ingredient(s)/Components

Lycopene is a lipophilic, acyclic (C40H56) carotenoid with no provitamin-A activity, which means it is not metabolized to vitamin A in the body. It is insoluble in water and exists naturally in an all-trans isoform and several cis-isoforms.

Application and dosage

The level of intake optimal for human health has not been established. This summary concerns the supplemental intake of lycopene. Supporters of the supranutritional intake of lycopene often recommend adding between 15 and 40 mg to their daily diet. Lycopene is obtained from processed tomato products (juice), functional foods enriched with lycopene or as nutritional supplements. Nutritional supplements contain pure lycopene, extracted from either natural or synthetic sources, at doses of between 5 and 25mg per tablet or capsule.

Tomato juice or sauce contains about 9mg of lycopene per100g.2

Lycopene is intestinally absorbed. Some studies found that absorption is higher in the presence of dietary lipids, and from processed tomato products, than from raw tomatoes. (Overview in 1) Several studies have shown that the additional intake of lycopene (between 20 and 40mg/day) in the form of tomato products or nutritional supplements increased the plasma lycopene level. (Overview in 3) One pharmacokinetic study found peak plasma levels of lycopene at 0.5–6 hours after oral ingestion and an elimination half-life of between two and five days. Lycopene and its metabolites were transported to the skin in this study, where it remained detectable for up to 42 days.4 Lycopene seems to be eliminated and excreted via the bile duct and the kidneys.

History/provider(s)

Lycopene was named after the fruit from which it was first isolated, namely the tomato (Lycopersicum esculentum), by the chemist C.A. Schunck in 1903.5

Lycopene supplements or lycopene-enriched functional foods are marketed by various companies.

Claims of efficacy

Following epidemiologic studies, which have linked higher intake of lycopene to a reduced risk of developing prostate cancer as well as cardiovascular diseases 6 lycopene has been promoted for cancer prevention and general health improvement. It has been suggested that it exhibits antioxidant activities, inhibits cell proliferation and inducts apoptosis.

To date, there is contradictory epidemiologic evidence regarding the association of lycopene intake and cancer risk: studies of lung cancer 7 or ovarian cancer 8 found a reduced risk associated with higher lycopene levels or intake, but studies of colon cancer 9 or breast cancer 10 found no protective association regarding increased lycopene intake.

Alleged indication(s)

Lycopene has been proposed as being active in the prevention of cancer, in particular prostate cancer, and other disease, e.g. cardiovascular diseases. As well as exhibiting beneficial effects in prostate cancer and lung cancer patients, it has been suggested as helpful in protecting against the adverse effects of chemotherapy.38

Mechanism(s) of action

Several biological mechanisms of lycopene and its metabolites have been described and suggested as linked to cancer development and prevention in humans.11 However, the metabolism and biological effects of lycopene are still not fully understood and, to date, studies have yielded discrepant results.

Some studies with healthy volunteers found that the intake of additional lycopene decreased the level of biomarkers of oxidative stress, while other investigations showed no effect.3 In one randomized clinical trial (RCT) involving male African American urology patients, no antioxidant effect of lycopene supplementation prior to prostate biopsy (30 mg/day for 21 days) could be seen.12

Another investigation with healthy volunteers suggested that the intake of lycopene (30 mg/day) increased serum insulin-like growth factor (ILGF)-binding protein-1 and -2 concentrations 13, which might lower ILGF-levels and prevent its possible cancer-promoting effects. Lycopene has also been linked to androgen metabolism and has been found to lower testosterone levels in mice mediated by genetic variations of enzymes of the carotenoid-metabolism.14

Some animal and in-vitro studies found a protective effect of lycopene against chemotherapy-induced toxicities, e.g. nephron- and cardiotoxicity of cisplatin or Adriamycin, while others did not. (15, overview in 16)

In an in-vitro model, lycopene at a physiological level did not show as having a significant effect on the proliferation of normal and malignant cells.17

Prevalence of use

In a US sample of prostate cancer patients, 11% of men used lycopene or tomato products.18

Legal issues

For functional foods and nutritional supplements, EU and national regulations apply.

Cost(s) and expenditures

Thirty tablets (15–25 mg lycopene each) – one-month’s supply – are available in Europe for around €25 via internet sellers.

Citation Gabriele Dennert, CAM-Cancer Consortium. Lycopene [online document]. http://ws.cam-cancer.org/The-Summaries/Herbal-products/Lycopene. July 26, 2013.

References

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