I am sure you had no idea that a nutrient as rich as Lycopene was hiding in plain sight, in your kitchen! That’s right, Lycopene is the king among nutrients. It has multifarious benefits for health and can even help in the prevention of deadly diseases and conditions like cancer and macular degeneration.
Features of Lycopene:
Many people are not aware of the existence and importance of this nutrient in their diet. As a result, they lose on its vital role in maintaining a healthy body and mind. Here are some features that place Lycopene at the top of the nutrient chart:
- It is a Carotenoid (organic pigments that can be converted to Vitamin A)
- It is a Phytonutrient (organic nutrients present in plants that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory)
- It is an antioxidant (neutralizes the effect of harmful free radicals by oxidizing itself)
- It prevents damage to DNA
- It cannot be manufactured by the human body and must be included in our diet
- It gives the color red to fruits and vegetables like tomato, watermelon, papayas and pink grapefruit
- It is a fat soluble nutrient
Having established that our body cannot produce Lycopene, it is important to know what foods are the best sources of this nutrient. Though many vitamin supplements incorporate Lycopene in the recommended dosages, it is smart to include it in your daily diet by adding all foods present in the red spectrum. Some easy to find sources of Lycopene are:
The best and most feasible source of Lycopene has been sitting right there in the vegetable shelf of your refrigerator. Tomatoes contain the maximum amount of Lycopene. When used fresh, they easily provide you with your daily requirement of Lycopene. But, surprisingly, when tomatoes are ingested in the form of ketchup, soup and other cooked forms, they release three times more Lycopene than the fresh fruit! Remember – the deeper, darker the tomato, the more loaded with Lycopene it is.
2. Pink Guava:
Again, the keyword is ‘pink’ or ‘red’. Pink and red guavas also have a high Lycopene content. In addition to Lycopene, guavas are also good sources of Vitamin C, Omega-3 fatty acids and fiber. Pick red or pink guavas to fill up your nutrition meter whenever you feel you are lacking these vital elements.
Ripe watermelons have that beautiful red shade that makes them irresistible to most people, and for good reason. The brain is fine tuned to recognizing brightly colored food as good sources of different vitamins and nutrients. The presence of Lycopene makes this otherwise simply watery fruit a favorite among many. It is also a good diuretic and source of fiber.
Find papaya a dull fruit with gross looking gooey seeds? The reason why you must have this fruit is that it is an excellent source of Lycopene. For those who don’t have access to pink guavas, papayas will give you the same amount of Lycopene. So, gather your courage and try this yellow-red tropical fruit.
5. Pink Grapefruit:
Yes, we have ‘pink’ grapefruit! This slightly bitter fruit is a gold mine of Vitamin C and Lycopene; almost as much as a tomato. This fruit is also known for its cholesterol absorbing properties.
Caution: People prone to kidney stones should avoid this fruit.
Skin Benefits of Lycopene:
Dieticians and nutrition experts have long been touting the many benefits of Lycopene for skin. From curing sunburn to reducing the risk of skin cancer, this nutrient does it all. Here are some skin benefits of Lycopene:
1. UV Induced Skin Damage:
It is common knowledge that UV-A is responsible for most of the skin damage caused by sun exposure as it goes deep into the skin and UV-B is the one that causes sunburns as it is more topical. Research has shown that the use of high-Lycopene foods in diet, in addition to sunscreens, can reduce the damage to skin caused by UV-A and UV-B exposure.
2. Anti-ageing Properties:
When ingested, Lycopene is converted to Vitamin A or Retinol by the body. Retinol is one of the best ways to reduce the effects of ageing as it promotes the production of collagen and melatonin, both of which regulate the overall health of the skin.
3. Reduction in Skin Redness:
Lycopene has been shown to reduce Erythema or skin redness to a large degree. It can also soothe rough skin by promoting the growth of new skin cells.
4. Skin Lightening:
The mild nature of Lycopene promotes the functioning of Melanin, which regulates skin color. It has been shown to reduce skin darkening and age spots.
5. Antioxidant Properties:
Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant and the fact that it is purely natural and organic makes it all the more better for the skin. The antioxidant properties of Lycopene are found to be two times higher than that of beta-carotene. Therefore, it can be used for a swifter, more effective detox of the entire body, including the skin.
Hair Benefits of Lycopene:
Viewed by scientists as skin cells, hair is probably the biggest cause of worry, besides skin, for the masses. Millions of people worldwide are spending millions of dollars on hair problems like split ends, premature graying, dandruff, and hair loss. Researchers, thankfully, have found a positive relation between Lycopene use and hair health.
6. Hair Loss Solution:
Hair loss, especially in men is linked to an excess of the chemical dihydrotestosterone or DHT. A good daily intake of Lycopene rich foods can help the body reduce excess DHT from the system and slow down the process of hair loss and male pattern balding.
7. Hair Growth:
Promoting the growth of healthy hair is probably among the top wishes on everyone’s list today. Studies have shown that a healthy intake of Lycopene can enhance the scalp’s ability to support the growth of healthy hair that is less susceptible to breakage and falling.
8. Various Scalp Related Problems:
Lycopene supplements are prescribed by doctors to treat scalp problems like Scalp dermatitis, scalp psoriasis and Tenia of the scalp.
Lycopene Health Benefits:
Lycopene doesn’t only have skin deep positive effects, it has been found to serve a much higher purpose by acting as a preventive measure against many life threatening and serious disorders and diseases. Doctors and researchers alike laud the many benefits of Lycopene rich foods and supplements when it comes to health issues like:
9. Heart Disease:
The number one killer, heart disease, is often linked to the presence of too much cholesterol in the body. Lycopene rich food, if taken regularly, prevents the oxidation of LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol), preventing it from clogging the arteries.
10. Prostate Cancer:
Known to be among the top three cancers in men, Prostate cancer can be possibly prevented by a healthy intake of Lycopene. For people who already suffer from prostate cancer and face removal of the prostate, a Lycopene rich diet is prescribed 2-3 weeks before the surgery to reduce and control cancer remission and cancer cell proliferation.
11. Various Other Cancers:
Like Prostate cancer, Lycopene use has been shown to have benefits in the occurrence of cancers of the breast, skin, liver and lungs. The exact reason why Lycopene is a good preventive measure against so many life threatening cancers is still being researched.
12. Infertility Among Men:
Research indicates a high correlation between the regular intake of Lycopene rich foods and boosted sperm count among men. Research is being conducted to see the effects of Lycopene in curing infertility among men.
Though research is still very rudimentary in this area, Lycopene has been found to have some positive benefits in the treatment of Type II diabetes by reducing blood glucose levels and by reducing oxidative stress through its antioxidant properties.
14. Macular Degeneration:
This is one of the leading causes of blindness across the world, which causes a gradual loss of vision in the center of the visual field. Lycopene helps in maintaining overall eye health and preventing macular degeneration by providing the body with a healthy dose of Retinol or Vitamin A.
This is traditionally a woman problem. Over 200 million women suffer from Osteoporosis worldwide. Recent studies have shown that adopting a Lycopene rich diet prevents brittleness and thinness of bones – the main cause behind Osteoporosis.
Lycopene rich foods might help make you less susceptible to stroke. The antioxidant properties of Lycopene protect you by inhibiting the formation of blood clots, which are the main reason behind strokes. In addition, Lycopene also has anti inflammatory effects on the blood vessels inside the brain, which also acts as a protection against stroke.
17. Immune System:
Lycopene is a stimulator for the body’s defense mechanism or the immune system. The immune system is coaxed by Lycopene to act faster in destroying disease causing microorganisms.
18. Neurological Disorders:
The constant presence of Lycopene in the diet has been linked to the prevention of brain and neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, and Parkinson’s disease. It does so by possibly reducing the wear and tear of brain tissue by oxidation.
Though one can get Lycopene very easily from a healthy diet, doctors often prescribe the use of synthetic Lycopene as well. There are many Lycopene based supplements easily available in the market. However, before choosing lycopene supplements, you must assess:
- Your current dietary sources of Lycopene
- The dosage required to make up for reduced natural intake
- Other ingredients in the supplement and your possible allergic reactions to them
- Price range of available brands
- Possible side effects
- Risks from overdoses of Lycopene
Lycopene Side Effects:
Lycopene, though seen as nature’s wonder, can also produce side effects in some cases. These include diarrhea, dyspepsia, gas, nausea, and vomiting, though the occurrence of these side effects is very rare. This is a good reason why natural sources of Lycopene are best.
Is Overuse of Lycopene Harmful?
The answer to this is: Yes, an overuse of anything can pose potential threats to health and well-being. If you take excessive amounts of Lycopene, you might experience:
- Skin Pigmentation (An orange-ish hue to the skin)
- Immune system imbalances (immunity against some microbes, leading to inability to ward off some diseases)
- Allergies (Swelling, itching, difficulty in breathing, hives and rashes)
- Gastrointestinal problems (bloating, gas, nausea and indigestion)
However, these health risks are very rare and occur only when the daily intake of Lycopene is found to be much higher than the recommended dose over a long period of time.
People often take their diet and nutrition for granted and miss out on vital nutrients that are crucial to good health. The immense amount of research going on in the field of Lycopene proves that people always need proof of the benefits of a certain thing before they realize its true value. However, if they refer to age-old wisdom and sayings as simple and commonplace as “eat carrots to improve your eyesight and skin”, they would realize that this saying is, in fact, speaking of the benefits of Lycopene, among other things.
Reaching for supplements and pills that contain Lycopene seems an unnecessary exercise when it is so abundantly available in nature. So, before you go searching for the best Lycopene supplements, pill or even synthetic Lycopene, check out your refrigerator and kitchen.
Look no further than your very own home laboratory, your kitchen, and cook up those red and orange foods to tap into your personal reservoir of Lycopene.
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