Lycopene, a naturally occurring member of the carotenoid family of compounds, is responsible for the red color of tomatoes, guava, rosehip, watermelon, and pink grapefruit. Carotenoids in general are noted for their antioxidative ability, but none are as effective as lycopene. Numerous scientific studies—ranging from large-scale epidemiological surveys to well-controlled human clinical trials—have demonstrated the important role that lycopene has to play in a number of different health areas.
Americans derive the majority of their dietary lycopene from tomatoes due to the many different uses of this adaptable fruit. Perhaps not surprisingly, the tomatoes with the greatest concentration of lycopene are the ripest and reddest. But a fact that may surprise is that, when using tomatoes to obtain a daily dose of lycopene, the best source is processed tomatoes (spaghetti sauce, juice, ketchup, etc) rather than the fresh-picked fruit. This seems contrary to most nutritional advice, which normally advocates the use of fresh, natural ingredients; but the fact is that, when tomatoes are heated and processed, lycopene is converted to a more absorbable form.
The other way to ensure that a daily dose of readily absorbable lycopene is obtained is by taking a high quality dietary supplement, such as the Lyc-O-Mato brand extract.
Lycopene provides health benefits by being absorbed into body tissues and mounting a defense against damaging free radicals that, if left unchecked, create oxidative damage to cells. This leads to conditions such as cancer, heart disease, macular degeneration, diabetes, joint deterioration, and accelerated aging. The body obtains antioxidants from many of the foods that comprise a healthy diet; however, many people fail to eat enough of these recommended foods. In addition, our city environments are overloaded with extra free radicals courtesy of sources like industrial pollution, motor vehicles, and smoking. Hence there is a need to increase the dietary intake of an effective antioxidant such as lycopene.
Numerous epidemiological studies have linked diets that are high in tomato/lycopene intake with reduced risk of cancer and degenerative diseases. An Italian study showed that people who ate at least one tomato-based product per day had a 50 percent lower chance of contracting digestive tract cancer than those who did not eat tomatoes. A Harvard Medical School study involving 48,000 men over six years monitored dietary habits and the incidence of prostate cancer. The authors found that of the 46 fruits and vegetables evaluated it was only the tomato-based foods that were beneficial in lowering the risk of prostate cancer, and lycopene was implicated as the active ingredient.
Other studies have focused more closely on precisely which components of tomatoes are responsible for the observed health effects. Most conclude that lycopene is indeed the key ingredient. Healthy subjects invariably have a higher serum lycopene level than diseased subjects. But, interestingly, recent research from the University of Illinois and Ohio State University has shown that lycopene is much more effective when combined with the other phytochemicals found in tomatoes than when used on its own. Therefore, those who rely on supplements for their daily lycopene dose should insist on a product such as Lyc-O-Mato, which incorporates whole tomatoes rather than pure lycopene.