What is Lycopene?
Lycopene is a carotenoid and an antioxidant that gives tomatoes their lush red color, and puts the pink into grapefruit and watermelon. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals that may cause damage to our cells. The Lycopene in tomatoes is absorbed even better when the fruit is processed and heated—so think tomato sauce, paste, juice, and ketchup for your health.
Lycopene is thought to play an important role in the prevention and reduction of prostate cancer, macular degenerative disease, and other cancers of the lung, breasts, bladder, cervix, and skin. Lycopene concentrates in our lungs, liver, prostate gland in men, and skin and has a higher concentration in our body tissue than all other carotenoids.
How does Lycopene work?
Like other antioxidants, Lycopene blocks free radicals from harming our body's cells. Free radicals result as a by-product from the naturally occurring oxidation process in our body. Free radicals are an unstable compound, and need an electron to re-stabilize. Free radicals will “steal” this electron from a healthy cell, thereby damaging it. In turn, this cell will steal an electron from another healthy cell in order to regain its equilibrium, and so on. This activity creates a domino effect, potentially weakening the cells, or even killing them. Free radicals in your body increase as you age, so the older you get, the more important it becomes to have a diet rich in antioxidants.
How much Lycopene do I need?
There is no Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for Lycopene, but a growing body of research suggests that a Lycopene-rich diet may have significant positive effects on certain cancers and heart disease.
- Italian men, who eat tomatoes and tomato products regularly, have been found to have a lower risk of cancer of the digestive tract.
- Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health followed the dietary intake of fruits and vegetables in over 47,000 men for six years, and found that only tomato-related products reflected a measurable relationship to lower the risk of prostate cancer. As the men ate more tomato products, and increased their levels of Lycopene, their risk for prostate cancer dropped.
- Lycopene is also thought to contribute to healthy eyes, particularly in the reduced risk of macular degenerative disease.
Other studies are underway at the University of Toronto and at the American Health Foundation focusing on Lycopene's potential role in the fight against breast, prostate, and other cancers.
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