Lycopene is a biologically occurring carotenoid with the principal food source of lycopene for many being the tomato. Tomato based products such as sauces for pizza and pasta, tomato juice and ketchup account for much of our intake.
Indeed it is important to note that cooked tomato products provide a more readily available source of lycopene as compared to raw tomato. This is due to the fact that the cooking process releases lycopene from the cell walls of the tomato.
During the cooking process the addition of an oil such as olive oil provides additional benefits in terms of a) retention of the carotenoid and b) increased bioavailability (i.e. uptake in the body) from the conversion of lycopene to a more readily available form.
The use of any oils will improve bioavailability, however utilising the healthy mono-unsaturated olive oil brings with it further health attributes from the olive and researchers identified that olive oil increased the antioxidant activity of lycopene in comparison to the poly-unsaturated sunflower oil.1
Lycopene, Carotenoids & Antioxidants
Lycopene is also found in pink grapefruit, watermelon, and guava with smaller amounts found in other foods. Carotenoids are a widespread group of naturally occurring pigments that are primarily responsible for the red, yellow, and orange colours in fruits and vegetables. Carotenoids are powerful antioxidants, protecting the cells of the body from damage caused by free radicals.
The health benefits of lycopene are attributed primarily to its powerful antioxidant actions and laboratory experiments indicate that lycopene is a more effective antioxidant than other carotenoids. Lycopene plays an important role in preventing oxidative damage to the membrane lipids (which form the double-layered surface of all cells), thereby influencing the thickness, strength, and fluidity of the membranes. Lycopene is also considered to demonstrate several beneficial factors in inhibiting cancer development.
Lycopene & Prostate Cancer
A placebo controlled study for Lycopene supplementation as a ‘chemo-preventative’ for prostate cancer suggested a beneficial role with increased plasma levels of Lycopene recorded and reduced PSA levels in those taking a lycopene supplement. The placebo group evidenced progression of prostate enlargement, whilst those taking Lycopene showed no further progression of symptoms.2
A ‘chemo-preventative’ is typically a drug given with the aim of preventing the development of a specific disease. In the research above the natural nutrient Lycopene has been used as opposed to a pharmaceutical drug and in other studies vitamins and minerals such as Vitamin E and Selenium have been combined with Carotenoids and trialled as a ‘natural’ chemo-preventative.
Lycopene is now considered as a promising nutritional component for the chemo-prevention of prostate cancer. In further epidemiological studies the regular intake of lycopene and high blood levels of the carotenoid have been associated with a reduced risk of developing prostate cancer, inhibiting progression of prostate tumour growth and prostate cancer cell proliferation.3,4,5,6,7
The on-going research is indicating that increasing the dietary intake of lycopene may be beneficial for health and specific ailments. Lycopene supplementation appears to be well tolerated and hence a suitable course of action for those unable to achieve adequate levels of lycopene through dietary intake.
We should always remember that single nutrient approaches are not ideal, and additional nutrients have been identified as potentially beneficial in the protection for prostate cancer. Therefore a healthy balanced diet is essential, and where appropriate micronutrient support in terms of supplementation may be beneficial.
Lycopene & Vitamin E
Vitamin E is one such nutrient that has been highlighted by research as working in harmony with lycopene to enhance the potential health benefits. Researchers examined the ability of these two compounds to reduce tumour growth, and whilst single nutrient research did not demonstrate significant changes the combination of vitamin E and Lycopene suppressed growth of prostate tumours by 73%. There was a further consideration from these results of an increased median survival time of 40%.8
The research with Vitamin E highlights the importance of diet, and again the need to focus not just on a ‘single nutrient ‘approach. For example those with a higher intake of nuts and seeds will be including an increased dietary intake of Vitamin E and by combining this alongside a diet rich in fruit and vegetables, including tomato, we start to see why some dietary patterns are considered linked to a reduced intake for certain cancers – for example the Mediterranean diet.
The typical modern high calorie and potentially nutrient depleted diet and obesity have been identified as playing an important role in the onset of many cancers including prostate.
If you have any questions regarding Lycopene, prostate health or any other nutritional/ health matters please do contact me (Amanda) by phone or email at any time. I can also put you in touch with a nutritional practitioner in your area.
1. Lee A, Thurnham DI, Chopra M:2000. Consumption of tomato products with olive oil but not sunflower oil increases the antioxidant activity of plasma. Free Radic Biol Med 29 (10): 1051-5.
2. Silke Schwarz, Ute C. Obermu¨ ller-Jevic, Eva Hellmis, Winfried Koch, Gu¨ nther Jacobi, Hans-Konrad Biesalski 2008 Lycopene Inhibits Disease Progression in Patients with Benign Prostate Hyperplasia1,2 J. Nutr. 138: 49–53
3.Giovannucci E. 2002. A review of epidemiologic studies of tomatoes, lycopene, and prostate cancer. Exp Biol Med (Maywood). Nov;227(10):852-9.
4.Kim HS, Bowen P, Chen L, Duncan C, Ghosh L, Sharifi R, Christov K.2003.Effects of tomato sauce consumption on apoptotic cell death in prostate benign hyperplasia and carcinoma. Nutr Cancer 47 (1): 40-7,
5.Mohanty NK, Saxena S, Singh UP, Goyal NK, Arora RP. 2005 Lycopene as a chemopreventive agent in the treatment of high-grade prostate intraepithelial neoplasia. Urol Oncol 23 (6): 383-5,
6.Barber NJ, Zhang X, Zhu G, Pramanik R, Barber JA, Martin FL, Morris JD, Muir GH.2006. Lycopene inhibits DNA synthesis in primary prostate epithelial cells in vitro and its administration is associated with a reduced prostate-specific antigen velocity in a phase II clinical study. Prostate Cancer Prostatic Dis 9 (4): 407-13.
7. Lili Tang, Taiyi Jin, Xiangbin Zeng, Jia-Sheng Wang.2005. Lycopene Inhibits the Growth of Human Androgen-Independent Prostate Cancer Cells In Vitro and in BALB/c Nude Mice. J. Nutr. 135: 287–290,
8..Jacqueline Limpens, Fritz H. Schro¨ der, Corrina M. A. de Ridder, Cindy A. Bolder, Mark F. Wildhagen,Ute C. Obermu¨ ller-Jevic, Klaus Kra¨mer, Wytske M. van Weerden . 2006 Combined Lycopene and Vitamin E Treatment Suppresses the Growth of PC-346C Human Prostate Cancer Cells in Nude Mice. J. Nutr. 136: 1287– 1293