Lycopene is a red pigment that is found in many red-colored fruits and vegetables, including tomatoes, papayas, and watermelon. It is an antioxidant that has been studied for years for its potential cancer prevention properties.
In particular, lycopene has long been the focus of researchers hoping to find a dietary supplement that can reduce the risk of prostate cancer.
What Research Has Shown About Lycopene and Prostate Cancer
Unfortunately, there have been mixed results regarding the benefits of lycopene with regard to cancer prevention. Several early studies seemed to show that lycopene could partially inhibit the growth of certain types of cancer cells. These studies were considered to be very preliminary in nature, but much hype surrounding the use of lycopene resulted from their publication.
In 2005, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) undertook an in-depth analysis of the available data regarding lycopene and cancer prevention (prostate cancer prevention in particular). The FDA concluded that there was no definite link between lycopene intake and prostate cancer prevention.
At the same time, however, the FDA did say that there appeared to be some association between eating whole red tomatoes and reduced risk of developing prostate cancer. It was thought that there was likely another agent in tomatoes, rather than lycopene, that resulted in the decreased risk.
What Do Doctors Say About Lycopene?
Today, most doctors do not actively advise men to take lycopene as a means to reducing their risk of developing prostate cancer. Nearly all doctors advocate for the consumption of a balanced, healthy diet that could include whole red tomatoes.
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Giovanucci E, Rimm E, Liu Y, et al. A prospective study of tomato products, lycopene, and prostate cancer risk. JNCI, Vol. 94, No. 5, 391-398, March 6, 2002
Levy J, Bosin E, Feldman B, et al. Lycopene is a more potent inhibitor of human cancer cell proliferation than either alpha-caroten or beta-carotene. Nutri. Cancer. 1995;24(3):257-66.