Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant found in tomatoes and pink grapefruit. Like the better-known supplement beta-carotene , lycopene belongs to the family of chemicals known as carotenoids . As an antioxidant, it is about twice as powerful as beta-carotene.

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Sources  

Lycopene is not a necessary nutrient. However, like other substances found in fruits and vegetables, it may be very important for optimal health.

Tomatoes are the best source of lycopene. Happily, cooking doesn't destroy lycopene, so pizza sauce is just as good as a fresh tomato. In fact, some studies indicate that cooking tomatoes in oil may provide lycopene in a way that the body can use better, 1,2 although not all studies agree. 3 Lycopene is also found in watermelon, guava, and pink grapefruit. Synthetic lycopene is also available and appears to be as well absorbed as natural-source lycopene. 30

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Therapeutic Dosages  

The optimum dosage for lycopene has not been established, but the amount found helpful in studies generally fell in the range of 4 to 8 mg daily.

It has been suggested the lycopene is better absorbed when it is taken with fats such as olive oil, but one study failed to find any meaningful change in absorption. 34

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Therapeutic Uses  

Some but not all observational studies suggest that foods containing lycopene may help prevent macular degeneration , cataracts , cardiovascular disease , and cancer . 5-13,31,37 However, observational studies are highly unreliable means of determining the effectiveness of medical treatments; only double-blind studies can do so, and few have yet been performed that relate to these potential uses of lycopene. (For more information on why double-blind trials are so important, see Why Does this Database Rely on Double-blind Studies? )

The best study of lycopene thus far evaluated its possible benefits for pregnant women. 28 Participants in this double-blind study of 251 women received either placebo or 2 mg of lycopene twice daily. For reasons that are not at all clear, use of lycopene appeared to reduce risk of preeclampsia , a dangerous complication of pregnancy. In addition, use of lycopene appeared to help prevent inadequate growth of the fetus. However despite these promising results researchers are cautious about drawing conclusions: several other nutritional substances have shown promise for preventing preeclampsia in preliminary trials only to fail when larger and more definitive studies were done. 29

In another study, the effects of lycopene supplements were evaluated in 2 arms of a randomized trial with a total of 72 people. Participants included those taking statins for cardiovascular disease (CVD) and healthy people not taking CVD medications. Each group was randomized to 7 g of lycopene for 2 months or placebo. Lycopene was not associated with changes in blood pressure or cholesterol when compared to placebo in either group. 49

Lycopene has also shown promise for leukoplakia , a precancerous condition of the mouth and other mucous membranes. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study, 58 people with oral leukoplakia received either 8 mg oral lycopene daily, 4 mg daily, or placebo capsules for three months. 32 Participants were then followed for an additional two months. The results indicated that lycopene in either dose was more effective than placebo for reducing signs and symptoms of leukoplakia, and that 8 mg daily was more effective than 4 mg.

Lycopene (taken at a dose of 16 g daily) has shown promise for oral submucous fibrosis, a severe condition of the mouth primarily associated with excessive chewing of betel nuts. 47

Regarding yet another mouth condition, gingivitis (periodontal disease), the results of a small double-blind trial suggest that lycopene can offers benefits when taken on its own, or when used to augment the effectiveness of standard care. 48

Much weaker evidence—far too weak to rely upon at all—hints that lycopene or a standardized tomato extract containing lycopene might be helpful for treating a number of conditions, including prostate cancer,23,35,43hypertension , 36breast cancer24 and male infertility , 25 and for preventing heart disease , 26sunburn , 33 and testicular damage caused by the cancer chemotherapy drug adriamycin. 41

Weak evidence hints that lycopene might help protect against side-effects caused by the drug doxorubicin , specifically damage to the heart and to developing sperm cells. 44-46

Results of studies have been inconsistent regarding the effects of lycopene and exercise-induced asthma . 27,39

One observational study failed to find that high consumption of lycopene reduced risk of developing diabetes . 40

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Safety Issues  

Lycopene is believed to be a safe supplement, as evidenced by the fact that researchers felt comfortable giving it to pregnant women. 28 One evaluation of the literature concluded that long term use of lycopene should be generally safe in doses up to at least 75 mg per day. 42

Note : We suggest that pregnant women should consult with a physician before taking any herbs or supplements.

Maximum safe dosages for young children, pregnant or nursing women, or those with severe liver or kidney disease have not been established.