Lycopene: The Power Pigment
Lycopene is a red plant pigment (a carotenoid) that's most famously found in tomatoes but also occurs in watermelon, pink grapefruit, and papaya.
Biotest included it in its prostate support and vascular sexual health supplement, P-Well™, because lycopene loves the prostate. The evidence is overwhelming:
- A meta-analysis of 26 studies with over 560,000 participants found an inverse relationship between lycopene levels and prostate cancer.
- A study of almost 50 thousand men found those with higher intakes of lycopene were less likely to develop prostate cancer.
- A meta-analysis of 17 studies found that men with increased tomato product consumption correlated with a 15 to 20% lower rate of prostate cancer.
There's also a bunch of research showing how lycopene inhibits prostate growth, otherwise known as benign prostatic hypertrophy, or BPH.
But rather than drone on about how lycopene does what it does, I'm just going to list a series of lycopene factoids that illustrate just how important this carotenoid is to human health. Later on, I'll give you some more background intel.
- Among all the carotenoids (over 600 of them), lycopene has the highest free-radical scavenging ability.
- When men suffering from infertility took 2 milligrams of lycopene twice a day for three months, 66% of the men showed improved sperm concentration while 73% showed improved sperm motility (when sperm are more active, you're more likely to slide an impregnating puck through the egg's net).
- In addition to showing promise in fighting prostate cancer, lycopene has also shown promise against bladder, cervical, oral, esophageal, pancreatic, and rectal cancers, in addition to leukemia and cancers of the colon, lung, and breast.
- Levels of lycopene are inversely related with plasma glucose levels and fasting insulin levels. (That means it makes you more insulin sensitive, thus thwarting Type II diabetes and inefficient carbohydrate metabolism in general.)
- As little as 5 to 7 mg. a day of lycopene is thought to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, but in the cases of existing cardiovascular disease, doses of 35 to 75 mg. per day might be needed.
- Lycopene seems to protect the skin against UV-B induced sun damage.
- Lycopene can inhibit platelet-derived growth factor, which inhibits the growth, invasion, and metastasis of melanoma.
- In hairless mice, lycopene improved the visual appearance of skin, made the skin moister, and even increased skin thickness. (When animals age, their skin gets thinner, allowing for more wrinkles.)
- Increased lycopene levels may be associated with a lower risk of age-related macular degeneration.
- Lycopene can activate the adaptive immune response (the T-cells and B-cells that produce antibodies that attack specific infections).
- Lycopene is thought to have promise in combating some neurodegenerative diseases.
- A meta analysis of 12 studies found that 25 mg. of lycopene taken daily reduced LDL (the "bad" cholesterol) and high blood pressure.
- An observational study of 6,000 people found that eating tomatoes protected against digestive cancers (those of the throat, stomach, and colon).
- Taking up to 3 grams of lycopene per kilogram of bodyweight has no adverse effects. In other words, it's extremely safe.
Lycopene is, of course, a hugely powerful antioxidant, which explains a lot of its beneficial effects (reducing fasting blood glucose, improving sperm quality and quantity, reverting tumor initiation, etc.).
But lycopene is also a potent anti-inflammatory agent, has hypocholesterolemic action (prevents plaque in arteries), exhibits strong immune modulation (protects against bacterial infection), displays anti-angiogenesis properties (prevents blood vessels from "feeding" tumors), and has significant abilities to modulate phase I and phase II enzymes (allowing it to protect cells and tissues in general).
And maybe, most interestingly, or at least most interestingly to me, lycopene fosters something known as "gap junctional communications," which is another way of saying that it allows exchange of signaling molecules and nutrients between neighboring cells. This is important because one of the characteristics of cancer is the loss of gap junctional communications.
Tomatoes generally contain relatively large amounts of lycopene (roughly 31 mcg. per gram). However, getting adequate or therapeutic amounts of lycopene isn't as easy as chomping on a tomato every day.
The frustrating thing is that the lycopene molecules in a fresh tomato are all in the trans configuration. Trans literally means "the other side of" in Latin and it refers to the condition when atoms or functional groups are on opposing sides of an imaginary line drawn down the middle of a molecule. The problem with that is the trans configuration prevents much of the lycopene from being absorbed.
What we need to do is "flip" the functional groups to a cis configuration ("this side of"). We can do this by processing the tomatoes, i.e., exposing them to heat, acid, or light, or pureeing them.
But even if we do manage to flip the lycopene, things like age, gender, hormonal status, smoking, alcohol, how well we chew or masticate the tomato, and how much fiber we eat with it (fiber reduces absorption) affect how much lycopene our digestive system extracts from a tomato.
So while eating tomato paste or stewed tomatoes is, in theory at least, a much more viable way to get adequate amounts of lycopene, it's still problematic. As is true with most fruits (and vegetables), the content of any specific carotenoid like lycopene (or any phytochemical) varies enormously due to tomato variety, soil quality, length of growing season, and environmental factors.
Then there's the issue of dosage. Estimates of how much we need for optimal health run to 25 mg. a day or more, making it extremely difficult to get that much from natural sources.
That leaves us with two options: 1) Eat a lot of tomato paste every day, thereby giving yourself a fighting chance of getting enough lycopene, or 2), take lycopene in supplement form.
As mentioned, Biotest included lycopene in its P-Well™ formulation and it's pretty easy to see why.
Together with punicaligan (the workhorse polyphenol in pomegranate) and cranberry extract, lycopene and its partners not only support prostate health, but they might also allow you to enjoy a better sex life by allowing more blood to flow into the penis (by improving the elasticity of the blood vessels in the penis and throughout the body).
But beyond all that, it's pretty clear that lycopene is a hugely potent natural substance that everyone, man and woman alike, should arguably consider taking to improve overall health.
Each serving of P-Well™ contains 30 mg. of lycopene from natural tomato fruit extract, along with 180 mg. of punicaligan from pomegranate whole fruit extract and 50 mg. of cranberry whole fruit concentrate. Take P-Well™ for prostate support, vascular sexual health, and urinary tract health, or take it just for the health of it.
You can read more about P-Well™ here.
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