Ensuring that you get enough lycopene is important for any diet, but before you start supplementing, it’s best to know all the facts.
What is Lycopene?
Lycopene is a carotenoid pigment, typically associated with the color, and is an active phytochemical in many fruits and vegetables, such as carrots and tomatoes. The chemical is primarily known for its coloring ability, but it is also a very important precursor for other antioxidants and compounds in the body. The ability of this carotenoid to affect so many areas of health makes it one of the best additions we can make to our diet. Research is still ongoing as to the range of health benefits that this compound may hold for us. There are many great reasons to eat colorful foods, but the intake of lycopene may be among the most important.
Lycopene has many benefits that include:
- Lower risk of inflammation
- Reduced risk of chronic disease
- Vision improvement
- Boost in the bone mineral density
- Lower risk of coronary heart diseases
- Delays onset of neurodegenerative diseases
Let us discuss them in detail below.
Lycopene is a powerful phytonutrient, an antioxidant with the ability to neutralize free radicals in key parts of the body, which helps it prevent chronic inflammation and disease. Antioxidants like lycopene are responsible for improving vision, protecting the skin, and even lowering the risk of cancer.
Relieves Neuropathic Pain
Neuropathy can be extremely painful, and often debilitating for those who suffer from it. Fortunately, research has found that increasing your levels of this carotenoid can help soothe that pain and even induce healing in the nerves.
Antioxidants like lycopene are able to prevent the breakdown of neural pathways. This happens as we age, and also when we are exposed to an excess of free radicals. By eliminating that inflammation in the brain, this antioxidant can prevent or slow down the onset of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
Bone Mineral Density
As we age, our bones begin to lose their bone mineral density, becoming more brittle and weak. This makes the bones easier to break, and slower to heal. This carotenoid has been proven to improve bone density and mineral uptake, which can help you feel younger and stronger.
Lycopene-containing foods are often the healthiest options in our diet – bright colorful foods are known to help prevent cancer. The presence of this compound will stunt the growth of certain cancerous tumors, or even reverse the growth and help induce apoptosis.
Eating foods that contain this antioxidant is linked to lowering blood pressure and strengthening the integrity of the blood vessels and arteries. This will lower the risk of coronary heart disease.
Lycopene Food Sources
This carotenoid is extremely important for maintaining and improving health, but fortunately, it can be found in many common foods. The main and most accessible sources of lycopene include the following:
Basically, if the food is naturally red or orange in color, there is a good chance it will be packed with this essential carotenoid.
In terms of dosage, there are no formal guidelines in place, simply because it is consumed so rarely in supplement form. The amount of fruit and vegetables you eat every day should be 4-5 servings, so lycopene should theoretically be a part of your everyday diet. If you are going to use a lycopene supplement, they usually do not exceed more than 30mg per day. Also, extended supplementation should be avoided, as the full range of side effects of this are currently unknown.
Lycopene Side Effects
There is a limited amount of study on the effects of consuming too much lycopene, but some of the risks are known to include complications with pregnancy, as well as an increased risk of certain cancers, among others.
- Prostate Cancer: Some studies have found that supplementation of oral lycopene may worsen the symptoms of prostate cancer, but only in those men who already have the disease. It does not increase cancer risk.
- Pregnancy: There has been limited research on the effects this carotenoid can have on pregnancy, but normal amounts in dietary sources should be fine. Speak with a doctor before adding this supplement to your health regimen.
- Gastrointestinal Issues: Some people report diarrhea, constipation, nausea, bloating, and cramping when taking supplements of this carotenoid, but normal dietary intake shouldn’t cause negative side effects.
- Allergic Reactions: If you are allergic to tomatoes, it is likely best not to consume this in supplement form, as some people do have allergies to lycopene, although this is quite rare.