Lycopene – its hidden benefits 

In North America, one in nine men will develop prostate cancer, making it the second most common cause of cancer death in men. Up to 90% of men develop prostate enlargement if they live to be age 80. Researchers are looking for low-risk ways to help men reduce prostate enlargement and prostate cancer development as these two diseases share many of the same biological steps. 

Part of the answer

Lycopene is the carotenoid ( in the same class of compounds as the popular beta-carotene) that gives colour to tomatoes, watermelon and pink grapefruit. Lycopene acts as an antioxidant. It promotes the complete maturation of cell development and slows the rate of cell division. These biological influences are associated in discouraging cancer development. This carotenoid concentrates in the prostate gland, prostate fluids, skin cells, as well as in the female cervix and breast tissue. With a number of studies proving lycopene possesses anticancer properties its benefits seem to be most important to prostate, skin, breast and cervical health.

For example, a study appearing in the Journal of Nutrition (Jan/08) showed that 15 mg of a lycopene supplementation daily over six months improved prostate enlargement and reduced blood levels of prostate-specific antigen (PSA). The PSA is usually higher in men with enlarged, infected or inflamed prostate glands and with prostate cancer. Men given the placebo for the same period experienced a worsening of their prostate enlargement problem with no change in their PSA blood levels. This study provides the scientific support that lycopene is an important prostate health nutrient.

With respect to women’s health, studies indicate that high consumption of tomatoes and tomato products is associated with lower breast cancer risk. Animal studies show that lycopene inhibits breast cancer development when animals are genetically engineered to develop breast cancer and when their bodies are challenged with known breast cancer-causing chemicals. The same studies, using beta-carotene and alpha-carotene (another carotenoid found in fruits and vegetables), failed to protect animals from breast cancer. Other studies have shown that higher lycopene intake is associated with a lower risk of cervical cancer.

More recently we have seen that skin cells extract lycopene from the bloodstream, which in turn, helps protect them against damaging UV-light from the sun and tanning beds. Lycopene is not a replacement for sun tan lotions and avoiding too much sun exposure, but these studies illustrates that the skin also needs protection from the inside-out. Studies have proven that lycopene protects the skin in this way in concert with vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium, beta-carotene and zinc. 

A tomato a day

It is beneficial for both men and women to eat at least one tomato-based product daily, including one fresh whole tomato, or 8 oz tomato sauce, juice, or soup. Also, choose a multiple vitamin supplement with a minimum 6 mg lycopene powder. (Jim is the supplement over and above the tomato based product or in place of? This amount simply adds a layer of insurance that you lycopene needs will met each day) All men over age 40 should take a natural prostate support supplement with a daily dosage of at least an additional 20 mg lycopene powder. (Why? And what about women? We don’t have human studies on women yet to discern how much to add for optimal protection as they age, whereas for men we have human intervention studies showing decline in PSA levels and reversal of prostate enlargement with lycopene supplementation in high risk individuals)

Because lycopene is a fat-soluble nutrient, it is necessary to eat some fat in the same meal as you are taking your supplements or eating your tomatoes, watermelon or pink grapefruit in order for it to be absorbed into your bloodstream. If you don’t consume some fat (e.g olive oil on your salad or in your tomato sauce) then none of the lycopene gets absorbed (where? From the intestinal tract into the bloodstream). And it’s as if you never consumed it in the first place. (Jim is this the major reason for people to eat tomatoes? Yes this is the major reason to eat tomatoes or a tomato product each day, the same way you should eat at least one cruciferous vegetable each day. When should men and women start doing this as prevention? I know you mention what men should do after 40, but when is it ideal to begin this for additional prevention? By age 16 everyone should be on a multiple vitamin and mineral that is enriched with antioxidants, including 6 mg of lycopene. After age 40, men should boost this amount due to the changes in the prostate gland the promote enlargement and cancer beyond that age)

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