The attractive red color found in tomatoes or guavas are the magical work of a chemical called ‘lycopene.’ A naturally occurring red carotenoid pigment, lycopene is found in watermelons, pink grapefruits, pink guavas, papayas and apricots being present specifically higher in tomatoes and tomato products. It can also be present in foods that don’t have the red coloring in them, for instance, asparagus and parsley.
Lycopene has been studied extensively for more than 70 years with thousands of articles published in renowned journals till date.
What is the Need for Lycopene?
Individuals consume lycopene to prevent heart disease, hardening of the arteries and several types of cancers. Some others also use lycopene to treat cataracts and asthma.
While the effects of this chemical have been studies with respect to numerous diseases, there is insufficient and inconclusive evidences to support the effectiveness of lycopene in these diseases. Lycopene has been found to be possibly ineffective for bladder cancer and diabetes. Insufficient evidences to rate effectiveness in other diseases include:
Heart disease: Certain research works show that women with increased lycopene levels in their blood are at a decreased risk of heart disease. Other researches prove no direct link between lycopene and heart disease in women.
Cancer: Although early research and certain evidences support that higher levels of lycopene are associated with lower risks of cancers such as breast, cervical, colorectal, lung, ovarian, pancreatic, prostate and kidney cancer, the effect of lycopene on these diseases is inconsistent. We are unable to arrive at a conclusion certainly as many other researches negate the effectiveness of lycopene on cancer.
High Cholesterol: While early research showed that taking specific lycopene supplements daily for 6 months lowered total cholesterol and LDL levels while increasing HDL levels, other evidences don’t support the same.
High Blood Pressure: Early evidence proved that taking lycopene products daily for 8 weeks lowered blood pressure in people with high BP. But certain other evidence does not support this fact.
Human papilloma virus (HPV) infection: Women with increased lycopene levels in blood recover faster from cancer-associated HPV infection than other women.
Hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis): Certain evidence shows that higher levels of lycopene are associated with lower risk of hardening of the arteries. Early evidence also supports the lowered risk of heart disease due to thickening of the arteries with high levels of lycopene. But, there appears to be no link between lycopene levels and stroke risk.
Lycopene is also not said to lower the risk of certain other diseases such as cataracts, gingivitis, brain tumor, menopausal problems, pelvic pain, high blood pressure during pregnancy and sunburn. Further research and evidence are needed to confirm the effectiveness of lycopene in curing these diseases.
Is Lycopene Compatible for Everyone?
Lycopene can be assumed to be safe when taken in quantities commonly found in foods. But lycopene supplements are considered to be usually unsafe as they can lead to premature births and low-birth-weight babies. Individuals with prostate cancer are recommended to avoid consuming lycopene as research suggests that it can worsen the illness.
Although the appropriate dose of lycopene depends on a person’s age, usage and other health conditions, there is no scientific evidence suggesting the appropriate dosage. Although a natural product, it is safe to consume it in average quantities to avoid side effects. Consult your physician before you start taking lycopene or its supplements.
A healthy diet plan with physical activity can help reduce the risk of many diseases. You can get in touch with a registered dietitian nutritionist at www.firsteatright.com to plan customized diets suiting your medical condition for speedy recovery or control of the disease.
Dietitian Nutritionist Dr. Nafeesa Imteyaz.