Lycopene is a natural compound that is found in bright red fruits and vegetables like tomatoes, watermelon, and grapefruit. Lycopene is a carotenoid, which are yellow, orange, or red pigments that give this color to its plants. Lycopene has been linked to many health benefits, including disease prevention and protection.
Tomato products have the highest amounts of lycopene and ketchup, tomato juice, and pizza sauce are considered to be the highest sources of lycopene in an average diet for a person living in the United States, accounting for 80 percent of lycopene intake among the population.
One of the biggest benefits of lycopene is that it is an antioxidant and protects the body of damage from free radical stress, which can hurt DNA and other cell structures.
The antioxidant properties help balance free radical activity in the body and in doing so, may offer protection against certain diseases, keep bones strong and healthy, and help eyesight by helping delay or prevent cataracts, macular degeneration, and other age-related eye disorders.
Lycopene and Cancer
While more research is needed, previous studies have made a connection between lycopene and cancer prevention. Because of its antioxidant profile, lycopene may stop cancer growth and build up enzymes in the body that help break down cancer-causing agents.
While there’s been no recorded proof that lycopene can treat cancer, it has been linked to one of the factors that can help reduce cancer risk, specifically breast, lung, and prostate cancers.
It’s important to also note that cancer prevention has been shown to increase with all fruit and vegetable consumption—not just ones with lycopene.
Research published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that in addition to its antioxidant properties, lycopene may have the ability to reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol while increasing HDL (good) cholesterol levels.1
There may also be a connection to those who have higher amounts of lycopene in their tissues and a lower risk of heart attack, blocked or clogged arteries, lower blood pressure, and other cardiovascular diseases.
Other Health Benefits
While cancer prevention and reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease are among two of the largest potential benefits of lycopene, the carotenoid may have additional benefits should someone have a high-lycopene diet.
A study published in the journal Neurology found that lycopene may help prevent strokes, particularly strokes caused by blood clots.2 Researchers think this is due to the fact that lycopene improves cholesterol levels in addition to reducing inflammation, two factors that can contribute to a stroke.
Lycopene along with other carotenoids may also protect against UV damage caused by the sun. It’s important to note, however, that lycopene does not (and should not) substitute as a replacement for SPF.
Some research has found that having lycopene either in food or supplement form can cause less burning and irritation from the sun’s rays.
Possible Side Effects
When consumed in foods, lycopene is safe to eat for everyone. Eating excessive amounts of lycopene could lead to a condition called lycopenemia, which is an orange or red discoloration of the skin. The condition itself is harmless and goes away by eating a diet lower in lycopene.
Avoid If Pregnant
Lycopene is available in supplement form but should be avoided by people who are pregnant or breastfeeding as some research found taking a daily supplement increased the risk of premature births and low birth weights.
Lycopene may also increase the risk of bleeding when taking certain medications such as aspirin, anticoagulants (blood thinners), antiplatelet drugs, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen or naproxen. The same goes for mixing lycopene and herbs that may increase bleeding, like ginkgo biloba.
Those taking medication for low blood pressure should not take lycopene, as it could cause lower blood pressure even more.
Avoid mixing with herbs that target asthma, cancer, anti-inflammatory herbs, cholesterol-lowering herbs, fertility herbs, supplements and herbs for heart, stomach, or lung disorders, the immune system, the nervous system, and herbs and supplements that help prevent bone loss.
Certain supplements like beta-carotene, calcium, and lutein, when taken together with lycopene, may decrease the amount of lycopene absorbed by the gut. Chronic, excessive alcohol consumption may also cause a side effect with lycopene, decreasing its effectiveness in protection against diseases.
Tomatoes, tomato sauce, and ketchup
Verywell / Anastasia Tretiak
Dosage and Preparation
Lycopene that comes from food sources has no set recommended intake amount. The average person consumes approximately 2 milligrams (mg) per day in their diet. This isn’t nearly enough to reap the antioxidant benefits, as research found those with high blood pressure consuming 12 mg per day of lycopene experienced lower blood pressure levels.
If taking lycopene for high blood pressure, 15 mg of a tomato extract (such as LycoMato) daily for six to eight weeks may help.
However, always be sure to consult with your doctor before adding a regular supplement to your diet.
What to Look For
While getting lycopene from your diet is the easiest route, it’s important to make sure you’re eating enough fruits and vegetables with lycopene in them to get the health benefits it touts.
Foods to look for with the highest amounts of lycopene are guavas, tomatoes, grapefruit, papaya, red bell peppers, persimmon, asparagus (even though it doesn’t have the trademark orange or red hue), red cabbage, and mangoes.
A Word From Verywell
Since there is not much research on lycopene supplements, its best to talk to your doctor before taking lycopene outside of your diet. If you’re interested in it for health reasons, your doctor will be able to look at your entire health history to see if the supplements are the right fit for you as well as be aware of any potential interactions.
While many benefits associated with lycopene still need more research behind them, the health benefits of eating fruits and vegetables to prevent disease and boost your immune system are proven. Making sure you have a diet rich in these foods including high-lycopene fruits and vegetables can only help your health overall.