Common Names

  • Nonprovitamin A carotenoid

For Patients & Caregivers

How It Works

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.

Purported Uses

  • 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.

Patient Warnings

Negative interactions between chronic alcohol ingestion and lycopene supplementation have been demonstrated and suggest a need for caution among individuals consuming high amounts of both alcohol and lycopene.

Side Effects

  • 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
  • Laboratory studies demonstrate a possible interaction between high-dose lycopene and chronic alcohol consumption.

Special Point

An analysis of six commercially available brands revealed that lycopene content varied from the labeled dosage by as much as 43%.

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For Healthcare Professionals

Clinical Summary

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).

Food Sources

Tomatoes, tomato products, watermelon, guava, rose hips, and pink grapefruit (15)

Purported Uses

  • Asthma
  • 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 this appears to occur with less efficiency than with 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 immune enhancement, 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).

Adverse Reactions

  • Lycopenaemia, characterized by a deep orange skin discoloration, has been reported following ingestion of large quantities of lycopene-rich foods (ie, tomato products) (24) (25).

Herb-Drug Interactions

  • A possible interaction between lycopene and alcohol consumption was demonstrated in animal models, indicating that cytochrome P450 (CYP) 2E1 expression is induced by high doses of lycopene plus alcohol (13).

Dosage (OneMSK Only)


  1. Neuman I, Nahum H, Ben-Amotz A. Reduction of exercise-induced asthma oxidative stress by lycopene, a natural antioxidant. Allergy 2000;55:1184-9.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. Stahl W, Sies H. Lycopene: a biologically important carotenoid for humans? Arch Biochem Biophys 1996;336:1-9.

  12. Kucuk O, et al. Phase II randomized clinical trial of lycopene supplementation before radical prostatectomy. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 2001;10:861-8.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. Caroselli C, Bruno G, Manara F. A rare cutaneous case of carotenosis cutis: lycopenaemia. Ann Nutr Metab. 2007;51(6):571-3.

  16. 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.

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