Lycopene is a member of the carotenoid family and is a natural pigment responsible for the deep red color of certain fruits, especially tomatoes.
Unlike other carotenoids, lycopene has no pro- vitamin A action, ie – it is not converted into vitamin A. Therefore it’s positive effects on your health is mainly due to its action as a potent antioxidant. In fact, laboratory experiments have shown that lycopene is a more effective antioxidant than other carotenoids, including beta-carotene.
Functions of lycopene
Lycopene is particularly effective in reducing a free radical called the lower oxygen. Lower oxygen is highly reactive form free radicals formed during normal metabolic processes that reacts with fatty acids, which are essential components of cell membranes. Because lycopene is found in cell membranes, it plays an important role in preventing oxidative damage to membrane lipids, thereby affecting the thickness and strength of the membranes. Maintaining the integrity of cell membranes is a key factor in the prevention of various diseases.
In addition to its antioxidant activity, lycopene could inhibit the growth of tumors. One of the ways by which lycopene may limit tumor growth by stimulating cell to cell communication.
Researchers believe that inadequate communication between cells is one of the reasons for the growth of abnormal cells, a condition that leads to the development of cancerous tumors.
Lycopene also plays an important role in preventing heart disease by reducing the damage that free radicals cause cholesterol.
Recent research suggests that lycopene may increase the concentration of sperm in infertile men.
Deficiency and overdose of lycopene
Insufficient intake of lycopene and other carotenoids over a long period can cause the development of many chronic diseases including heart disease, cancer and other diseases. Studies have shown that diets low in carotenoids can increase the body's sensitivity to free radicals.
Excessive consumption of lycopene, in turn, can cause an intense orange color - a harmless condition called lycopenodermia. Some studies show that under certain circumstances, lycopene and other carotenoids can be oxidized and subsequently behave as free radicals and cause cellular damage. Cigarette smoke, for example, can cause lycopene to oxidize.
Lycopene is a substance that dissolves in fat and as such requires the presence of dietary fat for proper absorption through the digestive tract. Therefore, the content of lycopene in the body can be affected by a diet that is extremely low in fat or diseases that cause reduced ability to absorb dietary fat by pancreatic enzyme deficiency, such as Crohn's disease, cystic fibrosis, surgical removal of parts the stomach, gall bladder or liver disease.
Medicines geared to lower cholesterol lead to low blood levels of carotenoids, including lycopene. Some foods such as margarine enriched with plant sterols or synthetic substitutes for fats used in the manufacture of various snacks can reduce the absorption of carotenoids.
Properties of lycopene
Lycopene plays an important role in the prevention or treatment of breast cancer, heart disease, cataracts, cancer of the cervix, lung, pancreas, prostate, skin, stomach, etc..