Vitamins, Minerals and Dietary Supplements

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What is lycopene? Why do we need it?

Lycopene is a substance belonging to the carotenid family. Carotenes are a brightly colored group of fat-soluble plant pigments that exhibit antioxidant properties, which help fight cellular damage in humans. Lycopene is red, which helps give tomatoes their distinctive color.

Several studies have shown lycopene to be effective in fighting certain forms of cancer. A 1995 study by researchers at Harvard University found that men who consumed greater amounts of lycopene had a much lesser chance of developing prostate cancer than those who consumed lesser amounts. Other preliminary studies have found that lycopene may offer protection against cancers of the pancreas, colon, rectum, esophagus, oral cavity, breast and cervix. In Europe, researchers have found a link between lycopene intake and a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. Lycopene supplements have also improved immune function in the elderly.

How much lycopene should I take?

While the Food and Drug Administration has yet to devise a recommended daily allowance for lycopene, the Harvard study showed that men who had the greatest protection against cancer consumed at least 6.5mg per day (or ate at least 10 servings of tomato-based foods per week).

What are some good sources of lycopene? What forms are available?

Tomatoes and tomato-based foods (such as tomato paste, tomato soup, tomato juice and pasta sauce) are the best sources of lycopene. Other foods that contain lycopene are watermelon, pink grapefruit and guava. Lycopene supplements are also available in capsule and tablet form.

What can happen if I don’t get enough lycopene? What can happen if I take too much? Are there any side-effects I should be aware of?

To date, no studies have been conducted regarding lycopene deficiency or overdose. At the time of this writing, no adverse effects have been reported concerning the use of lycopene, and no evidence of any drug interactions with lycopene has been reported.


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