Lycopene is a very powerful antioxidant found in the tomatoes and other red fruits and vegetables. Its chemical structure and action is similar to that of beta carotene, although it does not convert into vitamin A like beta carotene.
Lycopene is not considered to be an essential nutrient but it does offer numerous health benefits, mainly because of its antioxidant properties. This means that it protects the cells from damage caused by free radicals and prevents many diseases, including cancer and cardiovascular diseases. Upon ingestion, lycopene is digested and carried through the blood stream to liver, testes and adrenal glands, where it is stored.
Benefits of lycopene
This antioxidant is highly recommended for men who have problems with fertility, since it can raise the sperm count up to 63 percent. In addition, eating foods high in lycopene can prevent and help with many problems affecting prostrate gland. It reduces the chance of getting prostrate cancer, and in men who already suffer from this kind of cancer it lowers the PSA level. High PSA levels mean that the cancer is growing and spreading.
Lycopene and prevent and help with other forms of cancer too, including lungs, stomach, pancreas, colon, cervix, oral cancer and breast cancer.
This antioxidant is recommended for people who have cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, osteoporosis and skin diseases. It is also believed to be able to prevent macular degeneration and other age-related conditions and diseases.
Lycopene protects the skin as well. It reversed damage caused by the UV rays and overexposure to sun, which may lead to premature aging, poor skin and skin cancer.
The benefits of lycopene may also extend to protecting the arteries and lowering the levels of cholesterol, however, more research needs to be done in that particular area.
Sources of lycopene
Tomatoes are considered to be the main and the best source of lycopene. It is interesting that if tomatoes are cooked or heated, their lycopene content is increased, even 2.5 times. Adding some oil to cooked tomatoes promotes absorption of this antioxidant in the body.
So, aside from fresh tomatoes, even better sources of lycopene include tomato juice, tomato sauce, ketchup, marinara sauce, pizza sauce and other foods based on cooked tomatoes.
Other good sources of lycopene include pink grapefruits, watermelons, pink guava, rosehips and papaya.
It is estimated that 40 percent of Americans do not eat tomatoes or tomato products. Those people should either concentrate on other natural sources of lycopene, like those mentioned above, or try with lycopene supplements, which are available in drugstores.