The term lycopene has been doing the rounds on its efficacy in preventing diseases. What is this lycopene? Where is it found? How does it work? Is it really helpful? – these questions are going to be answered in this article.
What is lycopene and where is it found?
Lycopene is a carotenoid found commonly in fruits, vegetables, and green plants in varying proportions. They are commonly associated with fruits which are colored yellow, red, and orange. Though colored fruits and vegetables are said to be rich in lycopene, not all of them are. Certain foods like tomato and its processed products, pink guava, grapefruit, watermelon, and apricots contain more lycopene per gram of weight than other foods.
How is it helpful?
Lycopene possesses the antioxidant property- which is attributed by the capacity of trapping singlet oxygen species which can destroy the proteins, lipids, and DNA of our cells. Hence, lycopene helps in reducing the oxidative stress that comes in hand with our present-day lifestyle.
How does it work in our body?
Apart from their antioxidant capacity, they play a tremendous role in the prevention of chronic disease through a variety of mechanisms. They help in decreasing the expression of inflammatory compounds such as Interleukin-6 and Insulin-like growth factor-1. Inflammation is the main cause of cardiovascular diseases.
They also play a role in modulating the gap junctions ( the junctions present between cells for communication between them). Gap junctions have a role to play in cancer progression. Tumors have shown to have a decrease in gap junctions which cause dysregulation in communication and hence uncontrolled proliferation.
Another effect of lycopene is in its enhancement of phase- II detoxification enzymes. These enzymes help polarize the toxic compounds and excrete them. A build-up of toxic compounds can cause tumor formation.
Therefore through multiple strategies, lycopene asserts its effect in the prevention of chronic diseases such as cancer, osteoarthritis, and cardiovascular diseases. There are studies that also show the effects of lycopene in male infertility and postmenopausal women.
How can you increase its content in the foods?
Chemically, lycopene is a fat-soluble compound that is capable of transforming itself into its isomers when exposed to light, heat, and other chemical reactions. Studies showed that while tomato juice was subjected to heat and processing in different oils, the lycopene content increased in the final product. Hence, the consumption of raw tomato for its lycopene content is less beneficial than cooking it along with certain oils for your favorite subjis and curries.
Consuming large amounts of tomatoes and its products for its lycopene isn’t helpful. This is because the absorption capacity of ingested lycopene is only 10-30%. This absorption is further influenced by our hormone status, age, gender, body composition, and habits like drinking alcohol and smoking. It is also influenced by the phases of the menstrual cycle in women.
How much should you take in a day?
As humans cannot synthesize lycopene, the dietary intake influences its content in the body. Despite this, there is no certain recommendation for the amount of lycopene to be consumed every day. Several studies show a 7-8 mg of lycopene consumption per day yields beneficial results but other studies have investigated a 30-35 mg/day to show reduced oxidative biomarkers. Further studies are necessary to conclusively state a recommended daily intake.
Hence, lycopene is a bioactive compound found to have various benefits, especially in the present day’s lifestyle. In order to yield the benefits of lycopene, it is important to consider its bioavailability and the scenarios which can increase its content in the foods rather than consuming foods that are said to be high in lycopene.
Act smart and achieve surplus!