Lycopene: The Colorful Weapon To Fight Cancer

February 6, 2023 by No Comments

The new adage of the century has been “A glass of watermelon juice a day keeps the doctor away”. Highly contested of being a vegetable rather than a fruit, watermelon is highly nutritious and packed full of a phytochemical, lycopene. Strong supportive data from several studies suggest that lycopene provides important protection against cardiovascular diseases and cancer. Imagine eating a crisp, juicy slice of watermelon on a hot summer day and receiving great health benefits at the same time. It’s one of the few foods that contain lycopene in large amounts. Other good sources of lycopene include tomatoes, red and pink grapefruit, and guava.

Cardiovascular diseases and cancer are the main causes of mortality in many developed nations. A deficiency of vitamin A can lead to night blindness and xerophthalmia, an eye disease found primarily in children. This is a serious problem in many regions such as Africa, Asia, Latin America, and even in the United States, where 30% of the population consumes less than 70% of the recommended vitamin A dietary allowance. Considerable evidence suggests that watermelon is one of the richest sources of lycopene, vitamin A, B6 and vitamin C. Lycopene is a carotenoid without provitamin A activity found in high concentrations in a small set of plant foods. It has significant antioxidant potential in vitro and may play a role in preventing prostate cancer and cardiovascular disease in humans.

Epidemiological studies have shown an inverse association between dietary intake of lycopene and prostate cancer risk. A clinical trial conducted to investigate the biological and clinical effects of lycopene supplementation in patients with localized prostate cancer suggests that that 30 mg of lycopene taken daily for 3 weeks may be sufficient to modulate prostate cancer. Although it is not considered an essential nutrient, increased lycopene intake has been associated with reduced risks of certain cancers including prostate cancer and for cardiovascular disease. Lycopene is a fat-soluble phytochemical that stays in the body for several weeks and has a cholesterol synthesis-inhibiting effect and enhances LDL degradation to reduce the risk of cardio-vascular diseases.

Lycopene is similar in structure to the more studied b-carotene, but does not have provitamin A activity. Lycopene is the fat-soluble pigment that gives tomatoes, guava, pink grapefruit, watermelon, and a limited number of other natural foods their red color. Few Americans actually consume the recommended nine fruits and vegetables a day recommended and approved by USDA’s new Food Guide. If they are able to consume five to six servings that were more concentrated in disease-preventive nutrients and phytochemicals, it could potentially result in an improved health and reduced risks from chronic diseases.

More than 80% of the US dietary intake of lycopene is estimated to come from tomato sources including ketchup, tomato juice, spaghetti sauce, and pizza sauce.

Studies reveal that lycopene from tomato products appears more readily in circulation and more so if the tomato is heated and if a source of fat is included in the meal. This has led to the research of other details regarding bioavailability, metabolism and molecular mechanisms of lycopene biological activities. Besides, there lies the risk of over consumption, as people generally tend to reach for the supplement bottle rather than the natural product. In such terms, watermelons have emerged a better resource offering similar concentrations of lycopene with increased bioavailability.

The health benefits of lycopene are likely to extend beyond fighting prostate cancer and cardiovascular diseases. Due to the spate of recent reports suggesting a key role for lycopene in human health, consumer demand for lycopene-rich food products is growing. Watermelon and watermelon products have as much or more lycopene as raw tomatoes and stand out as a perfect alternative to reduce the risk of cancer and heart diseases.