We all know that vitamin A is fundamental for an excellent vision, but not all of us know it is also an outstanding antioxidant.
Moreover, there are substances similar to vitamin A called carotenoids.
They have different functions depending on their structure.
Lycopene is one of these molecules.
Recent studies have suggested that lycopene, a powerful antioxidant, could have impressive benefits for prostate health.
In this article, we will be discussing what lycopene is, the health benefits it offers, and the best sources of lycopene it to your diet.
How does Lycopene affect prostate cancer?
Lycopene is a carotenoid, a molecule that is similar to that of vitamin A. This substance is rich in foods like tomato, and it gives its vivid color.
Some studies show how certain nutrients may protect men against this type of cancer.
For example, boron is a trace element that is known to improve prostate health (1).
Similarly, a recent review of clinical trials has recently shown how common it is to have natural products and foods as a source of cancer-fighting molecules (2).
Like many other types of cancer, prostate cancer is influenced by genetics. However, prostate cancer risk is modulated by different factors. These include oxidative stress and changes in the prostate tissue.
A recent study showed that 10 servings of tomato every week is associated with a reduced risk of prostate cancer by 20% in the United Kingdom.
This country has 35,000 new cases of prostate cancer every year, and 10,000 prostate cancer patients die as a result of complications or metastasis (6).
This is very effective if we’re talking about a natural product that is affordable and easy to incorporate in your diet. 10 servings of tomato are equal to 10 cups of chopped tomatoes.
However, a recent review of 26 studies found more moderate results. Researchers linked high lycopene intakes to a 9% lower likelihood of developing prostate cancer. Daily intakes of 9–21 mg per day appeared most beneficial.
Lycopene has been shown to induce apoptosis in cancer cells. Apoptosis is a natural process of programmed cell death.
It is embedded in the natural program of the DNA to destroy any cell that is not functional or has become dangerous.
However, cancer cells have silenced these genes and do not self-destruct when they should. Instead, they replicate without any control.
One of the mechanisms that explain why lycopene improves the clinical condition of patients with prostate cancer is that this molecule induces apoptosis in growing tumors.
Thus, it is capable of helping the body to destroy cancer cells. The role of lycopene may also contribute to the prevention of prostate cancer because of the same and other added mechanisms (3).
Some studies have suggested that lycopene may be beneficial for patients recovering from this disease. It is thought to do so by clearing the body of prostate cancer cells and other cancer cell lines in a natural way (3).
According to a review of the scientific literature, these anti-cancer mechanisms may be involved in helping prostate cancer recovery:
- A significant reduction of the oxidative stress inside the cell.
- Improvement of inflammation in and around the tumor, which reduces the available nutrients for cancer to keep growing.
- Regularization of the cell cycle, which is altered and uncontrolled in cancer.
Is Lycopene good for your prostate?
Increasing your daily intake of lycopene through the consumption of cooked tomatoes could be beneficial for prostate health.
One of the ways that Prostate health is measured by the incidence of lower urinary tract symptoms (LUTS) in men.
They are triggered whenever the prostate increases its size.
Cancer is one of the reasons why the tissue of the prostate may grow large enough to become an obstruction of the urinary tract, but it is not the only one.
The most common cause of LUTS in men is benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). This is an abnormal growth of the human prostate that is not necessarily malignant.
Thus, a good supplement for your prostate does not only fight prostate cancer but also slows down the growth of this vital gland.
According to a study published in The Journal of Nutrition After analyzing the effects of lycopene on healthy human prostate cells, the authors found that this carotenoid acts on the cell cycle of healthy prostatic cells. It also modulates the division and growth of prostatic tissue.
Thus, lycopene is proposed as a potential preventative measure to reduce the risk of enlargement in healthy cells. It may also prevent the progression of the disease in cases of active benign prostatic hyperplasia (4).
Foods containing Lycopene
Without a doubt, tomatoes have the highest content of lycopene among all fruits and vegetables.
However, there are various sources to choose from. These include watermelon, guava, apricot, pink grapefruit, and rosehips. According to a study, 10 servings of tomato, a week is enough to reduce your risk of prostate cancer (6).
If you want to consume more lycopene in your diet, chop and cook tomatoes instead of eating them fresh, this will contribute to the absorption of lycopene.
Also, try other colored fruits like papaya, and don’t think tomato products are deprived of lycopene.
In all of these fruits, lycopene contributes to the red color and appearance of foods. Thus, colorful and red tomatoes are likely to have more lycopene.
What side effects might Lycopene have?
Lycopene supplements and tomato-based products that contain lycopene are safe and well-tolerated. However, similar to carrots, consumption of excessive doses are associated with lycopenemia.
This is an excess lycopene content in the blood, which features an orange coloration in the skin. Still, in these cases, there’s no hepatic dysfunction after using very high doses.
The only adverse effects so far are gastrointestinal problems (diarrhea, gas, nausea, and vomiting) that may appear in some people (7).
Lycopene effects on cell proliferation
Among the different benefits that lycopene has to offer, one of the most interesting to understand is how it modulates cell proliferation.
It is a rather complex topic, but after short minutes of reading, you will understand what it’s all about.
What is cell proliferation?
According to the National Cancer Institute, cell proliferation refers to an increase in cell number that results from cellular growth and division.
This is a normal function of almost every cell line and allows them to regenerate damaged tissue. It also helps to maintain a healthy function by exchanging old and non-functioning cells with new ones (8).
However, oxidative damage in the DNA of prostate epithelial cells or any other cell line predisposes to the formation of prostate cancer cells.
These cells display an exaggerated replication that creates a tumor. As a result, it turns a normal function into a severe disease in the prostate or any other tissue.
How does Lycopene affect cell proliferation?
In short, we can describe two main mechanisms behind the potential of lycopene to slow down cell proliferation. They are:
- Regulation of growth factors: There are chemicals in the body that serve as signals or red flags that promote cellular growth and proliferation. When they are overactive, cells start dividing excessively, and cancer ensues.
- As shown in various studies, lycopene is capable of clearing the blood out of an insulin-like growth factor and inhibit the action of many others by blocking their signaling pathways (11).
- Cell cycle arrest: Cell proliferation requires preparation by the dividing cell. Transcription factors are activated, new genes are made available, and new proteins are assembled.
- That includes cyclins, transcription factor E2F, and many other enzymes. Lycopene is known to reduce the phosphorylation and activation of enzymes.
- All of these changes block the groundwork that is required for cell division and freezes cancer cells into a phase of the cell cycle (9).
Other benefits of Lycopene
As well as demonstrating benefits for prostate health, lycopene has also been linked to other health benefits including
- Antioxidant properties– Lycopene is an antioxidant in the carotenoid family. Antioxidants protect the body from free radicals, which can result in oxidative stress.
Studies show that antioxidants found in lycopene can help to keep free radical levels balanced, therefore protecting your body against radical damage.
- Heart Health– Increased lycopene levels have been linked to reduced cardiovascular risk and have also been reported to improve biomarkers associated with CVD.
For example, a study involving 38,445 women found that higher levels of tomato-based product intake were associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Sunburn– Lycopene also seems to offer some protection against sunburn. In a clinical study of 36 healthy adults, consumed synthetic lycopene alone, a soft-gel encapsulated tomato extract, or a tomato drink for 12 weeks.
The results found that the subjects consuming tomato extract and tomato drink had a 38% and 48% decrease in induced sunburn at week 12, compared with only a 25% decrease in the group treated with synthetic lycopene. (It should, however, be used as a replacement for sunscreen).
What forms of Lycopene are easiest for the body to absorb?
Whole foods that are rich in lycopene are highly nutritious and rich in other vitamins and dietary fiber.
However, lycopene, while great when eaten as part of a healthy diet, should not be taken as a supplement. There are four reasons for this:
- Lycopene is a fat-soluble nutrient and is only well absorbed by the body when you consume it along with some dietary fat lycopene. (10)
- Secondly, the shape of lycopene molecules can either be CIS-lycopene (Bent) or TRANS-lycopene (Straight). Your body can easily absorb CIS-lycopene but struggles to absorb TRANS-lycopene.
When lycopene is heated, it can change form TRANS-lycopene to CIS-lycopene and become more bioavailable.
One study found that you absorbed 55% more lycopene from cooked sources than raw; while another study found that CIS-lycopene was absorbed 800% more easily than TRANS-lycopene (11)(12)(13)(14)
- The next reason to get lycopene from your diet instead of supplements is that supplements will contain much smaller doses than what you can get from just a small amount of food.
Lycopene supplements normally contain 15-20mg of lycopene (some offer “Triple Strength Doses” of 50mg). This will be extracted from raw tomatoes and will largely be the low bioavailability form TRANS-lycopene.
You will be eating it without fat or heat, so it is likely you will be getting very little from it anyway. Compare this with a half cup of sun-dried tomatoes, where you will be getting approximately 30 grams of lycopene.
Mix these in with some roasted vegetables, or tomato soup or sauce, and you have a healthy meal, rich in nutrients, containing the dietary fat and the heat needed to transform the shape of the lycopene and allow your body to absorb it fully.
- The final reason is price. A large jar of organic, sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil will cost you about $10-12.
You can get it substantially cheaper if you buy food sources like local sundried tomatoes. And it’s even less expensive to make your own sundried tomatoes!
Whereas a lycopene supplement costs, on average, somewhere between $20 and $60 on Amazon. For all the reasons outlined above, buying a Lycopene supplement is a waste of money. You are paying more for less.
Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant that has been shown to offer significant benefits for prostate health. However, it is important to note that when choosing a source of lycopene, whole foods are the best option.
So, the next time you’re thinking about buying lycopene dietary supplements, save yourself the money and make some roast vegetables in tomato sauce, or a nice tomato and red onion salad with an olive oil-based dressing.