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What is Lycopene?


Lycopene is not exactly a nutrient, it is actually a vegetable pigment that plants develop to protect themselves from the effects of sunlight and the oxidation from air. This substance is responsible for the red or orange color attributed to certain fruits and vegetables.

Lycopene belongs to the beta-carotene group, but it does not transform itself into vitamin A, which lead to think that there was no physiological importance from it. However, a number of studies have shown that lycopene is highly beneficial for human health.

The word lycopene comes from latin name for tomato, Solanum lycopersicum L., given in 1903.

In the body, lycopene is found in blood and tissues, although it is concentrated in the prostate. This substance cannot be synthetized by the body, it is captured from the diet or dietary supplements; however, lycopene suplements are not recommended during pregnancy or lactation periods, but can be obtained from the diet.

Tomatoes are the main source for lycopene (specially ripe ones which contain aproximately 83%), and also from its derivatives, such as ketchup, sauces, pastes, preserves, juices, etc.)

Another property from lycopene is its antioxidant power which protects the body form oxidative stress as a result from free radicals.

A number of studies relate lycopene with the reduction of prostate cancer, lung cancer, and digestive system cancer. It also prevents cardiovascular pathologies, macular degenerative disease, cataracts, and certain pregnancy complications, such as preeclampsia and a deficient fetus growth.

There is no daily amount established for lycopene intake, but it approxiametely ranges between 4 to 6.5 mg a day. To have an idea, a serving size of 60 grams of tomato puree, that could be part of a sauce or paste in a meal, can provide 10 mg of lycopene.