What is Lycopene?

Written by: Wan SofaSyifa
Reviewed by: Fenny Lim, BSc. (Hons) Nutrition, UKM

Lycopene is a carotenoid, a form of antioxidant. It is abundant across different fruits and vegetables. Most foods rich in lycopene normally have a reddish-orange tint, such as tomatoes, grapefruits, and guavas. What is it about lycopene that makes it such an evergreen supplement ingredients? Let’s get into it.

How Does Lycopene Work?

When you consume any product rich in lycopene, your body will break down its nutrients and absorb them. It is important to note that lycopene bioavailability is affected by an overall dietary composition. As a lipid-soluble compound, consuming lycopene with fats boosts its bioavailability [1]. If you’re taking a salad with tomatoes, for example, eating it with fat-rich dressing will actually help you absorb the lycopene in tomatoes better.

Benefits of Lycopene

The benefits of lycopene are often linked to its nature as a carotenoid antioxidant. Antioxidant, in general, is a powerful compound that helps reduce free radicals that can cause oxidative stress to the cells. Oxidative stress causes your cells to be damaged, and it is linked to various chronic diseases, including cancer [2]

A lot of research has been conducted on the benefits of lycopene, and the findings are quite impressive. According to these researches, some of the purported benefits of this powerful antioxidant include:

Reducing the Risk of Cancer

A review of the epidemiologic literature for tomatoes, tomato-based products, and lycopene in 1999 and quoted in many recent studies on the subject found that lycopene has a promising outlook in reducing cancers. In the review, lycopene might be able to reduce the risk of lung, stomach, and prostate cancer.

The review also highlights that there might be some benefits of lycopene on cervix, breast, oral, pancreas, colorectum, and esophagus cancers, but more research is needed for conclusive evidence [3]. You should know that cancer research is a long, continuous process that has yet to be concluded.

While lycopene has linked benefits in reducing the risk of cancer, you should not take any lycopene supplements as a form of treatment or medication. If you are diagnosed with cancer, we encourage you to seek professional help – only opt for lycopene supplement intake after consulting with your doctor.

Reducing the Risk of Cardiovascular Diseases

Cardiovascular diseases refer to heart and blood vessel disorders such as coronary heart disease, hypertension, coronary artery disease, and heart failure [4]. A recent paper in 2022 delves into how effective lycopene is in reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases. 

The paper sheds light on how lycopene can be a game-changer in reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases, particularly hypertension, by;

  • improving lipid profiles for a healthy cholesterol level
  • reducing blood pressure that can cause heart failure and stroke
  • reducing C-reactive protein – occurs when there is inflammation

Inflammations within your cardiovascular system and blood vessels can result in chronic cardiovascular diseases. These inflammations are caused by oxidative stress, which triggers your liver’s production of C-reactive protein to fight against it.

Lycopene’s ability to reduce C-reactive protein may indicate its high anti-inflammatory effects [5] and open up more research on how it may help reduce the risk of other cardiovascular diseases.

Improving Skin Appearance and UV Protection

Your skin’s appearance and health directly relate to how it responds to UV light. Overexposure to UV light can damage your cells and lead to premature aging. In the most extreme cases, if you experience too much UV radiation, it can also lead to skin cancer – one of the most common cancers in the world [6]

As for skin appearance, how UV light interacts with your skin either causes inflammation or skin pigmentation. Sunburns are a form of skin inflammation, it happens when the layers of your dermal layers are overexposed to UV light. The degree of sunburn varies depending on how deep it penetrates your dermal layers. Multiple, deep sunburns over time can cause premature skin aging and skin cancer [7]. If you have fairer skin, chances are, this is what you experience during a summer at the beach.

Skin pigmentation is also another result of overexposure to UV light. Tanning is a part of this. Tanning happens when UV light penetrates the skin and triggers the production of melanocytes. Melanocytes will then form melanin, the brown, dark pigment on the skin. 

Depending on how severe the process is, you may be experiencing hyperpigmentation such as melasma, sunspots (or liver spots), and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation due to skin inflammation. This hyperpigmentation can happen on parts of the body, in patches, or affect the entire body. While generally harmless, pigmentation can give an uneven complexion if left untreated [8].

Lycopene interacts very well with melanin and acts as an inhibitor. It stops the production of melanin and keeps your skin complexion even. Taking it regularly can also lighten the skin over time. As an antioxidant, lycopene is unique in that it is capable of protecting your cells from UV light and acts as a natural sunscreen. It reduces the risk of skin cancer and slows down your skin aging [9]

Tomatoes vs. Lycopene Supplements

Tomatoes are a rich source of lycopene, and they are easily accessible, and easily handled. There are many ways you can include tomatoes in your diet with menus across multiple ethnicities. Lycopene supplements are also readily available; you can get them anywhere at different prices and quality. 

Since there are no tolerable upper limits (UL) for lycopene, you can safely consume it even if you exceed the recommended amount. Taking too much lycopene may give you a reddish-orange tint to your skin, but this temporary effect will go away on its own. So, which is better? Tomatoes and tomato-based products or lycopene supplements such as Lyc-O-Mato?

To answer this, we prepared a simple table showing how effective tomatoes and lycopene are against five markers directly related to the abovementioned benefit based on a 2014 paper comparing the effectiveness of these two sources on cardiovascular risk factors [10].

A table comparing the effectiveness of tomatoes vs lycopene supplements based on a set markers.

Table: Effectiveness of Tomatoes vs. Lycopene Supplements

Lycopene supplement can be much better for you than whole and processed tomatoes, but this relies more on its concentration. Whole tomatoes are not concentrated enough, while processed tomatoes, such as marinara sauce, depend on concentration and volume.

Even so, one advantage of taking whole or processed tomatoes over lycopene supplements is combining them with other vitamins and minerals for a synergistic effect. That is why a good formulation matters more to achieve your desired results when it comes to lycopene supplements.

CellLabs® Lycopene Formulated Dietary Supplements

To maximize the benefits of lycopene, we have incorporated it into different synergistic formulas that align with the objectives of our dietary supplements. Lycopene is our favorite ingredient for our line of anti-aging supplements – especially products from our sheep and deer placenta line

Sheep and deer placenta are potent anti-aging ingredients. Their effects go beyond superficial, appearance-based anti-aging but also affect your overall health. Adding lycopene to our signature placenta line boosts the existing effect of the ingredients. The placenta, rich in amino acids, lipids, and other fatty acids, increases lycopene’s bioavailability for better results.

We also incorporate this material in several of our immunity and beauty supplements, but so far, if you are looking for a supplement specifically to improve your skin appearance, our CellLabs® ASTomato is the better choice. It is formulated with white tomatoes that give better UV protection and melanin inhibition by stimulating natural glutathione production.

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