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A healthy regard for lycopene research
Lycopene Benefits & Human Health
Despite decades of research, we are still learning about lycopene benefits and their role in human health. There are literally hundreds of research studies in progress around the world right now attempting to add to our understanding of:
As you would expect, there is much debate within the scientific community. We describe below and elsewhere the current state of the science.
Where is the Best Evidence for Lycopene Health Benefits?
Lycopene is sometimes presented as a panacea, a miracle-substance that cures everything from prostate cancer and heart disease to asthma and baldness. For some conditions, those shown towards the top of the pyramid below, many studies and trials have suggested a beneficial effect of a lycopene-rich diet. However, as you move towards the base of the pyramid, the supporting evidence becomes steadily weaker.
There is a strong and growing research base to support the health benefits of a lycopene-rich diet in relation to some important conditions, most notably prostate cancer, heart disease, breast cancer and skin protection and anti-aging.
The evidence to support each of these claims is examined in detail elsewhere on this site but we implore you to read our comments on the nature of scientific advancement before moving on in order to put the state of the current research in context.
Possible Lycopene Health Mechanisms
Scientists have put forward many ideas to explain trial results that suggest health benefits associated with lycopene consumption. One theory is that carotenoids, including lycopene, help cells in our bodies to communicate with each other. We know that the lack of such inter-cell communication can contribute to the development of diseases such as cancer.
Our own research has shown that the presence of vitamin C reactivates "spent" lycopene, prolonging the anti-oxidising effects of the supplement. To see how this works, consider the dangerous nitrogen dioxide free radical found in exhaust fumes and cigarette smoke:
Phase 1: Antioxidant Effect
The damaging free radical is quenched by the lycopene antioxidant but in so doing, the lycopene becomes "spent".
Phase 2: Reactivated Lycopene
The spent lycopene molecule is reactivated by the vitamin C such that it is ready to quench another poisonous free radical.
Some scientists have proposed reasons why lycopene might be more beneficial than other carotenoids in relation to prostate cancer and other diseases.
The Need for More Extensive Trials
Whilst there have been some notable trials in this field, it is absolutely clear that more and larger studies are required. The sample sizes are too small and the variables too numerous to be able to attribute positive observed effects to lycopene and lycopene alone.
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