Lycopene is one of the more famous carotenoids. It's well known for giving tomatoes their rich red hues. A free radical fighter, lycopene is also a key player when it comes to heart health.
In the areas of food and phytonutrient research, lycopene has been one of the hot topics in the last several years. This carotenoid gives tomatoes their delightful red colour and is turning out to be a powerful health protector. One of the key components of the Mediterranean diet, lycopene is particularly beneficial for cardiovascular health and heart disease prevention.
Lycopene’s beneficial effects in the body are thought to be associated with its ability to act as a potent antioxidant. This means that lycopene protects cells from damage by free radicals—molecules produced in the normal course of metabolism along with exposure to stress, pollution, and environmental toxins.
Increasingly, studies have shown that oxidative stress—the damage from these free radicals—is linked to the onset of many degenerative diseases, such as atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), heart disease, and several forms of cancer.
When it comes to heart health, studies have discovered that high levels of lycopene in the blood are associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease in both men and women. A 2012 Finnish study of middle-aged men found that those in the quartile with the highest blood lycopene levels were more than 50 percent less likely to suffer a stroke.
Lycopene may also have cholesterol-lowering properties. A study of healthy volunteers found that the consumption of a lycopene supplement produced a significant 14 percent reduction in LDL (bad) cholesterol levels.
How to get it
Lycopene is not manufactured by the body and must be acquired from foods such as tomatoes. Cooking these foods greatly increases the bioavailability of lycopene, making it easier for the body to absorb. If eating 100 g of tomato paste per day to increase your lycopene levels sounds unpalatable, however, supplements are another option. British researchers recently discovered a breakthrough formula of whey protein and lycopene that dramatically improves lycopene’s bioavailability.
According to this University of Cambridge study, the evidence suggests that if we all increased our blood lycopene levels to that of the highest 25 percent of the population, incidences of heart disease and stroke would fall dramatically.
With so much new evidence of its preventive health effects, and further studies ongoing, lycopene is definitely living up to its status as a key component to living a longer, healthier, and disease-free life.