What is lycopene and why should you add more of it to your diet? Lycopene is a plant pigment that gives foods like tomatoes and watermelons their signature colors. Exhibiting antioxidant properties, lycopene has been linked to a long list of health benefits. Researchers note that lycopene may offer protection against sunburns, free radical damage, and even certain types of cancers.
Belonging to the carotenoid family, which is a group of compounds related to vitamin A, lycopene may help reduce systolic pressure. That is the top number on your blood pressure reading and it indicates how much pressure is exerted against the arterial walls when the heart beats. Decreasing that number is very beneficial for people with high blood pressure. Additionally, lycopene may improve LDL cholesterol and blood flow.
The benefits don’t just end there! Lycopene and beta-carotene are primary carotenoids founding skin and plasma. That’s why you often see those antioxidants in skin care products. Lycopene may improve the body’s ability to protect itself from the sun. Loading up on tomatoes doesn’t make you immune to sunburn; rather, it simply offers extra protection to your skin. Lycopene also exhibits anti-inflammatory properties that work to reduce oxidative stress. Finally, lycopene offers neuroprotective properties and may even help balance levels of cytokines, proteins that alert the immune system. Some great sources of lycopene include:
- Guava: 5,204 micrograms (mcg) per 100 grams (g)
- Tomato: 3,041 mcg per 100 g
- Grapefruit: 1,219 mcg per 100 g
- Papaya: 1,828 mcg per 100 g
- Watermelon: 4,532 mcg per 100 g
- Red bell pepper: 484 mcg per 100 g
- Persimmon: 159 mcg per 100 g
- Red cabbage: 20 mcg per 100 g
- Asparagus: 30 mcg per 100 g
- Mango: 3 mcg per 100 g
Lycopene And Your Sleep
Within recent years, researchers have focused their attention on the link between diet and sleep quantity/quality. Some studies looked at the link between sleep duration and higher intake of lycopene-rich foods. In these studies, sleep parameters were tracked using self-reports, and the diet was assessed by food diaries that participants kept. Based on the information, researchers found an association between sleep duration and lycopene levels. Based on that information, though, researchers need to conduct more studies on lycopene in the diet and sleep.
Lycopene exhibits anti-inflammatory effects that result from its lipophilic nature. That means that lycopene has a close association with cell membranes, enabling them to regulate inflammatory responses and signals. In fact, lycopene may prevent the production of different cytokines, including IL1, IL6, IL8, and TNF-α. It may also inhibit nuclear factor kappa B, a signaling pathway that causes an inflammatory response. Lycopene experts say that the anti-inflammatory nature may be a potent agent for cancer treatment, especially in regards to the inhibition of metastasis and tumor progression.
In one study on overweight and obese people, a higher presence of lycopene was associated with a lower risk of hypertension. A different study noted that lycopene may exhibit antihypertensive effects in rats without causing hypotension. Another study with 54 patients with hypertension found that blood pressure decreased after six weeks of tomato extract supplementation. Another study found that lycopene supplementation of more than 12 mg per day in hypertensive patients significantly reduced diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number on a blood pressure reading).
Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant that exists in many easily accessible foods. Not only does it offer protection to your skin, but it may also improve heart health and reduce the risk of certain types of cancer. Although you can take a lycopene supplement, it may be most effective when consumed from lycopene-rich foods like tomatoes, grapefruits, red bell peppers, watermelon, and other red or pink fruits.