Lycopene is a naturally occurring chemical that gives fruits and vegetables a red color. It is one of a number of pigments called carotenoids. Lycopene is found in watermelons, pink grapefruits, apricots, and pink guavas. It is found in particularly high amounts in tomatoes and tomato products. In North America, 85% of dietary lycopene comes from tomato products such as tomato juice or paste. One cup (240 mL) of tomato juice provides about 23 mg of lycopene. Processing raw tomatoes using heat (in the making of tomato juice, tomato paste or ketchup, for example) actually changes the lycopene in the raw product into a form that is easier for the body to use. The lycopene in supplements is about as easy for the body to use as lycopene found in food.
People take lycopene for preventing heart disease, “hardening of the arteries” (atherosclerosis); and cancer of the prostate, breast, lung, bladder, ovaries, colon, and pancreas. Lycopene is also used for treating human papilloma virus (HPV) infection, which is a major cause of uterine cancer. Some people also use lycopene for cataracts and asthma.
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Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Lycopene is LIKELY SAFE during pregnancy and breast-feeding when taken in amounts commonly found in foods. However, lycopene is POSSIBLY UNSAFE when taken as a supplement during pregnancy. A study using a specific lycopene supplement (LycoRed, Jagsonpal Pharmaceuticals) found that taking 2 mg daily, starting between weeks 12 and 20 of pregnancy and continuing until delivery, increased the rate of premature births and low-birth-weight babies. Not enough is known about the safety of lycopene supplements during breast-feeding. If you are pregnant or breast-feeding, avoid using lycopene in amounts greater than those typically found in foods.
Prostate cancer: Developing laboratory research suggests lycopene might worsen established prostate cancer by increasing the spread of cancer without having any effect on cancer cell growth. Until more is known, avoid lycopene if you have a prostate cancer diagnosis.
The appropriate dose of lycopene depends on several factors such as the user’s age, health, and several other conditions. At this time there is not enough scientific information to determine an appropriate range of doses for lycopene. Keep in mind that natural products are not always necessarily safe and dosages can be important. Be sure to follow relevant directions on product labels and consult your pharmacist or physician or other healthcare professional before using.