Health Care Professional Information
Nonprovitamin A carotenoid
A natural pigment synthesized by plants and microorganisms, lycopene is used primarily as an antioxidant and also to prevent and treat cancer, heart disease, and macular degeneration. Lycopene has antioxidant activity and is classified as a nonprovitamin A carotenoid, other examples being lutein and zeaxanthin. Alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, and beta-cryptoxanthin are classified as provitamin A carotenoids because they can be converted into retinol. Small clinical trials suggest possible benefit against exercise-induced asthma (1), benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) (2), and cancer, but no optimal dosage has been established.
Lycopene enhanced antitumor efficacy of docetaxel against prostate cancer in animal studies (22). Epidemiologic studies suggest an inverse relationship between lycopene consumption and risk of cancer (3), particularly lung (4), stomach (5), prostate (6), estrogen receptor (ER) and progesterone receptor (PR)-positive breast cancers (7). However a consistent association between lycopene consumption and endometrial cancer risk has not been detected (8) (9).
Low intake of tomato sauce may be associated with advanced prostate cancer in patients with low-grade cancer at diagnosis (10) although data from other studies indicate that lycopene or tomato-based regimens do not prevent prostate cancer (11). Variable results were reported for lycopene supplementation in prostate cancer patients (12). A recent study did not find any association between levels of serum lycopene and risk of prostate cancer (23).
An analysis of six commercially available brands revealed that lycopene content varied from the labeled dosage by as much as 43% (14).
Tomatoes and tomato products, watermelon, guava, rose hips, and pink grapefruit
- Cancer prevention
- Cancer treatment
- Cardiovascular disease
- Macular degeneration
Mechanism of Action
Lycopene is a natural pigment synthesized by plants and microorganisms. Referred to as a nonprovitamin A carotenoid, it is not known to have any vitamin A activity. Biological actions include antioxidant activity via singlet oxygen quenching and peroxyl radical scavenging, induction of cell to cell communication, and growth control, although less efficiently than beta-carotene (15). Proposed mechanisms of action in cancer prevention include inhibition of cancer growth, induction of differentiation by modulation of cell cycle regulatory proteins, alterations in insulin-like growth factor-1 (16) or vascular endothelial growth factor (17) levels, prevention of oxidative DNA damage, and possible enhancement of carcinogen metabolizing enzymes (18).
Other possible actions for all carotenoids include immunoenhancement, inhibition of mutagenesis and transformation, and inhibition of premalignant lesions.
Carotenoids have also been associated with decreased risk of macular degeneration and cataracts, decreased risk for some types of cancers, and decreased risk of some cardiovascular events (19).
Intestinal absorption of carotenoids, including lycopene, is facilitated by the formation of bile acid micelles containing carotenoids. The presence of fat in the small intestine stimulates the secretion of bile acids from the gall bladder and improves the absorption of carotenoids by increasing the size and stability of the micelles, thus allowing more carotenoids to be solubilized. Bioavailability of lycopene is affected by the dose and presence of other carotenoids such as Beta carotene (20).
Concentrations of lycopene in serum and body tissues are highly variable and are dependent on food source, efficiency of absorption, and amount of fat in the diet. The serum concentration after a single dose peaks at 24 to 48 hours post dose (21). Lycopene is primarily stored in adipose and liver. In both serum and tissue storage, lycopene cis-isomers constitute greater than 50 percent of the total lycopene present.
It is assumed that lycopene is excreted through the bile and kidneys (20).
- Lycopenaemia, characterized by a deep orange discoloration of the skin, has been reported following ingestion of large quantities of lycopene-rich foods (i.e. tomato products) (24) (25).
- A possible interaction between lycopene and alcohol consumption was reported, indicating that cytochrome P450 (CYP) 2E1 expression is induced by high doses of lycopene plus alcohol (13).
Literature Summary and Critique
Dosage (Inside MSKCC Only)
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- Neuman I, Nahum H, Ben-Amotz A. Reduction of exercise-induced asthma oxidative stress by lycopene, a natural antioxidant. Allergy 2000;55:1184-9.
- Schwarz S, Obermuller-Jevic UC, Hellmis E, et al. Lycopene inhibits disease progression in patients with benign prostate hyperplasia.J Nutr. Jan 2008;138(1):49-53.
- Olmedilla B, et al. A European multicentre, placebo-controlled supplementation study with alpha-tocopherol, carotene-rich palm oil, lutein or lycopene; analysis of serum responses. Clin Sci (Lond) 2002;102:447-56.
- Gallicchio L, Boyd K, Matanoski G, et al. Carotenoids and the risk of developing lung cancer: a systematic review. Am J Clin Nutr. Aug 2008;88(2):372-383.
- Yang T, Yang X, Wang X, Wang Y, Song Z. The role of tomato products and lycopene in the prevention of gastric cancer: a meta-analysis of epidemiologic studies. Med Hypotheses. 2013 Apr;80(4):383-8.
- Etminan M, Takkouche B, Caamano-Isorna F. The role of tomato products and lycopene in the prevention of prostate cancer: A meta-analysis of observational studies. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 2004;13(3):340-345.
- Cui Y, Shikany JM, Liu S, et al. Selected antioxidants and risk of hormone receptor-defined invasive breast cancers among postmenopausal women in the Women's Health Initiative Observational Study. Am J Clin Nutr. Apr 2008;87(4):1009-1018.
- McCann SE, Freudenheim JL, Marshall JR, et al. Diet in the epidemiology of endometrial cancer in western New York (United States).Cancer Causes Control. Dec 2000;11(10):965-974.
- Pelucchi C, Dal Maso L, Montella M, et al. Dietary intake of carotenoids and retinol and endometrial cancer risk in an Italian case-control study.Cancer Causes Control. Dec 2008;19(10):1209-1215.
- Giovannucci E, Liu Y, Platz EA, et al. Risk factors for prostate cancer incidence and progression in the health professionals follow-up study. Int J Cancer. 2007;121(7):1571-8.
- Peters U, Leitzmann MF, Chatterjee N, et al. Serum Lycopene, other carotenoids, and prostate cancer risk: a nested case-control study in the prostate, lung, colorectal, and ovarian cancer screening trial. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 2007; 16(5):962-8.
- Van Patten CL, de Boer JG, Tomlinson Guns ES. Diet and dietary supplement intervention trials for the prevention of prostate cancer recurrence: a review of the randomized controlled trial evidence. J Urol. Dec 2008;180(6):2314-2321; discussion 2721-2312.
- Veeramachaneni S, Ausman LM, Choi SW, et al. High dose lycopene supplementation increases hepatic cytochrome P4502E1 protein and inflammation in alcohol-fed rats.J Nutr. Jul 2008;138(7):1329-1335.
- Feifer AH, Fleshner NE, Klotz L. Analytical accuracy and reliability of commonly used nutritional supplements in prostate disease. J Urol 2002;168:150-4.
- Stahl W, Sies H. Lycopene: a biologically important carotenoid for humans? Arch Biochem Biophys 1996;336:1-9.
- Voskuil DW, Vrieling A, Korse CM, et al. Effects of lycopene on the insulin-like growth factor (IGF) system in premenopausal breast cancer survivors and women at high familial breast cancer risk. Nutr Cancer. May-Jun 2008;60(3):342-353.
- Grainger EM, Kim HS, Monk JP, et al. Consumption of dietary supplements and over-the-counter and prescription medications in men participating in the Prostate Cancer Prevention Trial at an academic center.Urol Oncol. Mar-Apr 2008;26(2):125-132.
- Kucuk O, et al. Phase II randomized clinical trial of lycopene supplementation before radical prostatectomy. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 2001;10:861-8.
- Schuurman A, et al. A prospective cohort study on intake of retinol, vitamins C and E, and carotenoids and prostate cancer risk (Netherlands). Cancer Causes Control 2002;13:573-82.
- Institute of Medicine, Food and Nutrition Board. Beta-carotene and other carotenoids. Dietary reference intakes for vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium, and carotenoids. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press; 2000:325-400.
- Stahl W, Sies H. Uptake of lycopene and its geometrical isomers is greater from heat processed than from unprocessed tomato juice in humans. J Nutr 1992;122:2161-6.
- Tang Y, Parmakhtiar B, Simoneau AR, et al. Lycopene enhances docetaxel's effect in castration-resistant prostate cancer associated with insulin-like growth factor I receptor levels. Neoplasia. 2011 Feb;13(2):108-19.
- Kristal AR, Till C, Platz EA, et al. Serum lycopene concentration and prostate cancer risk: results from the Prostate Cancer Prevention Trial. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2011 Apr;20(4):638-46.
- Caroselli C, Bruno G, Manara F. A rare cutaneous case of carotenosis cutis: lycopenaemia. Ann Nutr Metab. 2007;51(6):571-3.
- Dos Santos VM, Camilo AG, De Souza LA, et al. A woman with treated breast cancer, recent neurological symptoms and xanthoderma. Acta Med Iran. 2013 Apr 6;51(3):195-8.
How It Works
Bottom Line: Diets that contain many fruits and vegetables rich in carotenoids like lycopene can help prevent some types of cancers and heart problems. However, not enough research has been done to say whether lycopene supplements have the same effect.
Lycopene is a natural pigment that is produced by plants and microorganisms. Laboratory experiments with lycopene confirm that it acts as an antioxidant and affects the way cells grow and communicate with each other, although it is not as potent as beta-carotene. Scientists have proposed several different mechanisms by which lycopene might fight cancer. These include stopping cancer cell growth, preventing DNA damage, and enhancing enzymes that break down cancer-causing products. Studies in healthy elderly patients suggest that consumption of lycopene or tomato juice does not stimulate the immune system. In general, diets rich in carotenoids like lycopene have been associated with decreased risk of macular degeneration, cataracts, some types of cancers, and some heart problems.
- To prevent and treat cancer
Lycopene is an antioxidant. One clinical trial suggested that preventative use of lycopene supplements reduces the spread of localized prostate cancer, but there is no other proof from clinical trials that lycopene can treat cancer. Diets rich in carotenoids like lycopene are generally associated with a decreased risk of certain types of cancers.
- To treat asthma
One clinical trial showed that daily lycopene supplementation protected against exercise-induced asthma, but no additional studies have been performed to confirm this.
- As an antioxidant
Laboratory studies support this use.
- To treat heart disease
Diets rich in carotenoids like lycopene are generally associated with a decreased risk of some cardiovascular events. However, there is no proof that lycopene supplements have the same effect.
- To prevent and treat macular degeneration
Diets rich in carotenoids like lycopene are generally associated with a decreased risk of macular degeneration. However, there is no proof that lycopene supplements have the same effect.
Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH):
Forty participants with BPH received lycopene or placebo for 6 months. Symptoms of BPH including prostate specific antigen (PSA) levels and prostate enlargement were measured. Patients who took lycopene had decreased PSA levels and no further prostate enlargement. Patients given placebo had no changes in their PSA levels and further prostate enlargement. Larger, long-term studies needed to validate whether lycopene supplementation is useful for BPH treatment.
Do Not Take If
A possible interaction between lycopene and alcohol consumption has been reported.
- After long-term ingestion of large quantities of lycopene-rich foods (i.e. tomato products), some individuals may develop lycopenaemia, a deep orange discoloration of the skin.
An analysis of six commercially available brands revealed that lycopene content varied from the labeled dosage by as much as 43%.
Last updated: April 29, 2013