L is for Lycopene

Randi Karlinsky MS, RDN, LDN, CHC, NASM-CPT

Lycopene is a nutrient primarily found in plants with antioxidant properties. Antioxidants protect the body against damage from free radicals. In excess, free radicals cause oxidative stress leading to chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. Lycopene provides the vibrant pigment in certain fruits such as tomatoes, watermelons, and pink grapefruit.

Lycopene’s antioxidant power has been shown to protect against and even slow down the progression of certain cancers. Preliminary studies link lycopene to limiting the tumor growth of both breast and prostate cancer. There’s a variety of research that all suggest the link between elevated intake levels of carotenoids, including lycopene with a significant reduction in risk for developing prostate cancer. These studies were done among many different age groups, environments, and nutrient manipulations. Additional research on lycopene’s antioxidant power suggests it may help protect the body against damage from specific pathogens such as pesticides, herbicides, certain types of fungi, and even monosodium glutamate (MSG).

Lycopene plays an important role in heart health as well. High blood levels of lycopene have been associated with a decreased risk of premature death in heart disease and metabolic syndrome. Specifically by reducing the “bad” (LDL) cholesterol levels and increasing the levels of “good” (HDL) cholesterol in the blood.

Other potential benefits lycopene may provide include protection against sunburns, maintenance of eye health by protecting against or delaying onset of cataracts, brain health protection, and stronger bone health

Excellent food sources of lycopene include:

  • Tomatoes – richest source

  • Watermelon

  • Guava

  • Pink grapefruit

  • Papaya