Lycopene is a red antioxidant carotenoid that has been shown in studies to have a remarkable ability to help reduce the chance of developing prostate cancer.
Prostate cancer is a disease that threatens all men equally. Standard risk factors for predicting cancer (family history, obesity, smoking) are of no help in predicting chances of getting prostate cancer, with one important exception - dietary habits.
Researchers have found that men who consume the highest amounts of cooked tomatoes have the lowest rates of prostate cancer, while, inversely, those who consume the lowest amounts have the highest rates. Studies have shown that cooked tomato products like spaghetti or pizza sauce, offered more protective benefits, while raw tomatoes and tomato juice offered little if any protection. The reasons are that the cooking process breaks down the tomato’s cell walls which makes the lycopene more available, and the fats and oils used to prepare the cooked sauces enhances the absorption of the lycopene, which is a fat-soluble carotenoid.
Tomatoes are nature’s richest source of lycopene. Lycopene and beta-carotene are the predominant carotenoids in human tissues, and lycopene is the most abundant carotenoid found in the prostate gland tissues and serum. Lycopene is also found in watermelons, guavas and pink grapefruits, and is responsible for the characteristic red color associated with these fruits. The redder the color, the higher the lycopene content.
Lycopene is the most efficient scavenger of singlet oxygen of all the common carotenoids and is able to quench free radicals twice as efficiently as beta-carotene. Current research suggests that lycopene’s powerful antioxidant activity confers a high degree of protection against cholesterol oxidation, a process believed to influence prostate cancer. By-products of the oxidation of cholesterol (epoxides) measure in cancerous prostate tissue suggest that oxidized cholesterol is either a product of oxidative stress or that oxidized cholesterol has a direct carcinogenic effect. This antioxidant process may also confer heart disease benefits, for both men and women, as oxidation of LDL is one of the first steps in the formation of atherosclerosis.
Researchers have also discovered that lycopene increases gap-junctional communication between cells. This mechanism, which allows healthy cells to communicate with each other, is lost during malignant transformation of cells. It is theorized that by restoring this communication process lycopene may aid in reversing the malignant process.