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Lycopene and Tomatoes

Can Lycopene Increase Longevity?

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Updated August 27, 2007

Lycopene is a carotenoid (a type of micronutrient) found in high quantities in tomatoes. Recent claims have been made that lycopene can help reduce cancer, heart disease and macular degeneration. The real story isn't so clear.

There does seem to be a link between tomato consumption and a reduced risk of heart disease, cancer and macular degeneration. However, these studies do not look at the effects of lycopene alone. Tomatoes contain a large number of other nutrients in addition to lycopene that could have a positive effect on health, including vitamin C, folate and potassium. The studies do not control for the possibility that people who eat a lot of tomatoes may also be generally more health conscious and have a better overall diet.

Age-Related Macular Degeneration and Lycopene

Laboratory studies show that lycopene can help prevent age-related macular degeneration in animals, but studies in humans have produced mixed results. More research is needed.

Lycopene as an Antioxidant

Studies that use a supplement form of lycopene have produced much less encouraging results. Though lycopene does have antioxidant properties when used in laboratory animals, it is not clear if those properties will be effective for humans.

Lycopene for High Cholesterol

Research is contradictory and most studies in humans use tomato juice (which has other healthy nutrients besides lycopene). Whether the antioxidant or other properties of lycopene help with high cholesterol is unknown.

Cancer Prevention and Lycopene

Studies have shown that a diet high in fruits, such as tomatoes, and vegetables decrease cancer risk. However, the studies are not specific as to exactly what component of a tomato is cancer-preventing. To find out if lycopene, specifically, has cancer-preventing properties, studies on lycopene supplementation in humans need to be done.

Bottom Line

Eat tomatoes. Tomatoes are a healthy fruit that has many components that are good for your body. Avoid supplements of lycopene (which may or may not be helpful), and choose tomato-based products instead.

Sources:

National Library of Medicine – Drug and Supplement Information. Lycopene.

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