Lycopene: what is it and what are its properties?

Why this carotenoid found in fruits and vegetables is essential for health

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By Alex

Lycopene helps keep many pathologies and problems at bay: the food that contains the largest quantities of it is certainly the tomato, but we can also find it in carrots and peppers. This fat-soluble pigment of vegetable type, like beta-carotene, belongs to the carotenoid family. It is taken regularly through the diet, since the body is not able to synthesize it. Here’s everything you need to know about where to find it and how to consume it to make the most of all its properties.

What is lycopene?

From a structural and chemical point of view it is defined as a linear acyclic carotenoid. It is not a precursor of vitamin A, but acts in combination with it and consists of 11 conjugated double bonds of 40 carbon atoms.

We can find it in fresh vegetables in its natural trans form.

It is the most predominant carotenoid in human blood, where we find it in very high concentrations. It is present naturally in our blood in greater amounts than beta-carotene and other carotenoids. Values change between individuals, depending on where they come from and the type of diet.

It is also present in other areas of the body, such as prostate, breast, skin, adipose tissue and adrenal glands. it accumulates as a reserve source once it crosses the intestinal barrier.

What are the properties of lycopene

There are many beneficial properties associated to lycopene. In fact, in addition to giving the characteristic color to the foods in which it is found, this substance is essential for our health.

In recent years, research has focused on the characteristics of this carotenoid, often finding surprising results. Among its properties, we can list:

  • natural antioxidant, able to counteract the dangerous action of free radicals.
  • acts in a preventive form, and on several fronts, against certain types of cancer
  • Intervenes in regulating the responses of the immune system and the action of hormones
  • improves and facilitates communication between cells.
  • used to treat prostate diseases
  • regulates cholesterol levels to such an extent that daily consumption, at certain amounts, would be comparable to the effect of statins.
  • destroys toxic substances such as cadmium, aflatoxins, cyclosporine.
  • reduces the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and counteracts osteoporosis and arthritis.
  • protects the skin from solar radiation, so much so that it is often employed in creams and lotions. This reduces damage from UV rays, including aging.
  • lowers the risk of macular degeneration.
  • helps prevent degenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease
Where is lycopene found
Foods rich in lycopene.

Where is lycopene found

It abounds in fruits and vegetables, varying in amounts from 30 to 200 mg/kg. Much depends primarily on the degree of ripeness of the vegetable and, of course, the choice to eat organic.

We find it mainly in red and yellow foods. Tomatoes are the richest food in lycopene, but we also find it in carrots and peppers.

Among fruits, the foods richest in lycopene are watermelon, pink grapefruit, apricot, grapes, pomegranate, cherries, strawberries and oranges.

How to take lycopene better

Not everyone knows that this carotenoid is able to increase its bioavailability in tomatoes after cooking.

Suffice it to say that in tomato puree its concentration is about 4 times higher than in fresh tomatoes.

This is precisely why the Mediterranean diet is said to be the best source. A plate of pasta with tomato and extra virgin olive oil or a Margherita pizza is the perfect combination. Even ketchup, notoriously regarded as an industrial product to be banned from the diet, is richer in it than raw tomato.

This carotenoid in fact, unlike many other substances, does not dissipate at high temperatures: in fact it behaves in the opposite way, increasing its concentrations. This happens due to the transformation of the structure from trans to cis and the destruction of a matrix that limits its uptake.

To promote greater assimilation, experts also suggest combining it with other chlorophyll in favor of lycopene.

Lycopene supplements

Both synthetic and natural and organic supplements can be found on the market.

Unlike other carotenoids, however, it does not act as a mineral salt precursor.

With respect to doses, it is always best to consult with your doctor as to how to proceed. As a rule, research has shown that excessive intake risks sending the intestines into overload.

The daily requirement generally ranges from 50 to 100 mg per day, but with a balanced diet rich in seasonal vegetables and fruits, it can easily be met. Only in cases of established insufficiency should supplements be used.

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