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What is lycopene?

Lycopene (from the Latin lycopersicum = tomato species) is a carotenoid that has no vitamin A activity. The diet is the only source of lycopene, since it cannot be produced in the human body; still, lycopene is not considered an essential nutrient, since no symptoms of lycopene deficiency are known [1].

Foods Rich in Lycopene

  • Tomatoes and tomato products, watermelon, pink grapefruit, baked beans, guava, papaya, apricots [1,2]
  • Amount of lycopene  in breast milk depends on mother’s nutrition [3].

Lycopene as a Food Additive

Lycopene may be used as a color in margarines, ice creams, beverages, orange gelatine and other commercial foods. In the European Union, synthetic lycopene is labeled as the E-number E160d(i), and lycopene obtained by fermentaion of a fungus Blakeslea trispora is labeled as the E-number E160d(iii).

Lycopene produced by E.coli bacteria and synthetic crystalline lycopene are Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) [6,7].

Lycopene Supplements

Lycopene supplements can be extracted from tomatoes, produced by fermentation of the fungus Blakeslea trispora, produced by the bacteria Escherichia coli or synthesized [1,6,8].

Lycopene Health Benefits

Lycopene is LIKELY EFFECTIVE in the treatment of lycopene deficiency [4].

Lycopene is POSSIBLY INEFFECTIVE in enhancing immunity [5].

There is INSUFFICIENT EVIDENCE [1,4,5] about the effectiveness of lycopene supplements in the prevention or treatment of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), asthma, atherosclerosis, benign prostate hyperplasia, cancer (brain, breast, cervical, lung, ovarian, pancreatic, prostate), cataracts, coronary heart disease, diabetes type 2, gingivitis, high blood pressure, hot flashes in menopausal women, human papilloma virus (HPV) infection, inflammation, infertility, kidney disease, mouth sores (oral leukoplakia), or as an anticoagulant (blood thinner) or antioxidant or as sun protection.

Lycopene Safety: Side Effects, Toxicity

Side effects may include stomach cramps or diarrhea [4]. Individuals with tomato allergy may react to lycopene extracted from tomatoes. High lycopene intake from food or supplements may result in a harmless orange discoloration of the skin (lycopenodermia) [1]. There are no reports of lycopene toxicity [1].

During Pregnancy

Lycopene supplements are POSSIBLY UNSAFE during pregnancy [4]. Not enough is known about the safety of lycopene supplements during breastfeeding, so breastfeeding women should avoid them [4].

  1. Carotenoids  Linus Pauling Institute
  3. Canfield LM et al, 2003, Multinational study of major breast milk carotenoids of healthy mothers  PubMed
  4. Lycopene uses, side effects  WebMD
  5. Lycopene evidence  Mayo Clinic
  6. 1997, GRAS synthetic lycopene  US Food and Drug Administration
  7. 2009, GRAS Notice for Lycopene derived from recombinant E. coli  US Food and Drug Administration
  8. Lycopene from Blakeslea trispora  Food and Agriculture Organization

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