Lycopene & LactoLycopene: the definitive guide
Author Miriam Ferrer, PhD Last updated 8th October 2019
- Family HealthIngredients & Nutrition
Lycopene is a pigment found in fruits and vegetables. Most notably it gives tomatoes their red colour and it also acts as a powerful antioxidant in the human body.
Since tomatoes are a key part of the Mediterranean diet, researchers looking into their health benefits discovered that lycopene can potentially help the heart and may even be useful for male fertility. Unfortunately it is difficult to absorb in its raw form, so a more bioavailable version like LactoLycopene offers a more efficient way for people to increase their intake.
- What is lycopene?
- What is LactoLycopene?
- Lycopene and heart health
- Lycopene and prostate health
- Lycopene and male fertility
What is lycopene?
Lycopene (from Solanum lycopersicum, the binomial name of the tomato plant) is a bright red carotene and carotenoid pigment that is important for photosynthesis. Tomato products are the most common dietary source of lycopene, accounting for more than 80% of intake, although it is found in smaller quantities in other fruits and vegetables such as watermelon, mangos and red cabbage.
Transplanted from South America to Europe in the 16th century, tomatoes flourished in the Mediterranean climate and eventually entered the local cuisine. From the mid-20th century, biologists observed that people in the Mediterranean tended to enjoy longer, healthier lives.
This observation was confirmed by the far-reaching Seven Countries Study, which examined the relationship between lifestyle, diet, coronary heart disease and strokes by comparing countries around the world. 1 Its findings matched earlier data suggesting that a traditional Mediterranean diet rich in fruits and vegetables is healthy; mortality rates from cardiovascular disease were far lower in Southern Europe, even when factors such as cholesterol, smoking, and exercise were taken into account. The study also observed that rates of cardiovascular disease increased as eating habits were influenced by Western European norms.
Researchers became aware that the intake of fruits and vegetables – common in the traditional Mediterranean diet – reduces the rate of atherosclerosis (clogging of the arteries), which is a main underlying mechanism leading to heart failure.
When they looked for components common to fruits and vegetables to explain this effect they were able to identify lycopene and later demonstrated that it is extremely beneficial. 2
As a powerful antioxidant, lycopene is able to protect the body from unpaired oxygen molecules called ‘free radicals’, which are produced by the body’s own processes and can also result from environmental stimuli like pollution.
Free radicals attempt to interact with oxygen molecules present in other structures, a process known as ‘oxidation’ and this cause can cause damage in our cells. The oxidative process is responsible for a variety of negative effects, including ageing and damage to a man’s spermatozoa.
What is LactoLycopene?
Lycopene in its raw form, as found in the tomato plant, is difficult for the body to absorb - in scientific terms, it is not ‘bioavailable’.
In fact, whereas processing usually degrades the nutritional content of fruits and vegetables, it actually increases the amount of bioavailable lycopene. Absorption of lycopene by the intestines is enhanced by cooking and the presence of fat or oil.
However, although cooking tomatoes with oil helps to deliver lycopene to the bloodstream, not many people can manage to eat the quantity of tomatoes required to provide health benefits on a daily basis.
A tomato extract supplement that has been formulated to take these facts into account will allow for significant absorption of beneficial lycopene.
LactoLycopene is a combination of lycopene with whey protein, which protects the compound in the digestive system and allows more of it to be absorbed into the bloodstream. It is therefore more bioavailable than lycopene in its raw form. A University of Cambridge study showed that lycopene levels in the blood rose between 60% and 100% within two months for people taking LactoLycopene, while another study at Boston’s Brigham & Women’s Hospital, run by Harvard Medical School, found that it increased average blood levels of lycopene at both six and 12 months. 3, 4
Lycopene and heart health
Researchers have shown that high lycopene intake is associated with reduced risk of heart attacks, strokes and cardiovascular diseases.
- An independent clinical study at the University of Cambridge in 2014 showed that taking a daily LactoLycopene supplement increased the flexibility of arteries by up to 53% in people diagnosed with heart disease. This counteracts the hardening of the arteries associated with heart disease. 5
- Research also shows that lycopene creates improvement in reactivity/responsiveness of endothelial cells (the layer of cells which line all blood vessels), considered by many cardiovascular health experts to be a possible key to the prevention of heart disease.
- A Women’s Health Study in the United States found that women consuming large quantities of tomato products had up to 32% reduced risk of cardiovascular disease compared with those consuming the lowest levels. 6
- The Framingham Offspring Study examined lycopene intake over 10 years, finding that a 2.7-fold difference in dietary lycopene intake was associated with a 17% reduction in cardiovascular disease and a 26% reduction in coronary heart disease. 7
- A study of 1,031 Finnish men found a significant association between lycopene and a reduced risk of heart attacks, plus a 55% reduction in stroke risk. Follow-up studies showed that people with higher blood lycopene levels had less thickening or hardening of the carotid arteries in the neck. 3
- Lycopene is known to have antioxidant properties. It bonds with unpaired oxygen molecules that damage the function of healthy cells and lead to cardiovascular disease, neutralising them.
- It is also known to reduce high blood pressure, and may reduce cholesterol. 8
Lycopene and prostate health
The prostate is a gland that’s found just below the bladder in men. It produces some of the fluid that makes up semen, which helps protect and nourish sperm during sexual intercourse. It’s also what makes up the greater part of a man’s ejaculate.
The prostate tends to be about the size of a walnut in young adults but can grow over the course of a man’s life to become (in some cases) the size of a baseball. However, even though the prostate gland often enlarges as men get older, in two-thirds of these men aged over 50, an enlarged prostate doesn’t tend to cause any problems. 9
As men age, the risk of developing certain prostate conditions increases. Prostate cancer is the most well-known of these with around 1 in 8 UK men developing the disease at some stage in their lives. 10 However, other prostate conditions to be aware of include benign prostate hyperplasia (BPH) and prostatitis. 11, 12
Common signs of a prostate issue include frequent urination, especially during the night, and pain during sex or urination.
There have been a number of recent studies into the benefits of lycopene in the prevention and treatment of benign enlarged prostate (‘BPH’) and the potential of lycopene to reduce consequent pressure on the bladder. Other studies have investigated its potential for the prevention of prostate cancer. 13, 14
Lycopene and male fertility
Recent studies have shown that lycopene could have a positive effect on male fertility.
Male infertility is most often caused by poor sperm motility, quantity, and genetic quality. It is also on the rise: according to a wide-ranging study by the Jerusalem Hebrew University, the sperm concentration of men in Western countries has dropped by more than 50% in 40 years. 15
Men with a good percentage of high-quality, undamaged sperm are more likely to impregnate a partner. Any reduction in the number of these high-quality sperm – caused by oxidative damage to their DNA, for example – will significantly impact the ability to reproduce.
As a powerful antioxidant, studies have shown that lycopene can prevent this free radical damage and have a beneficial effect on the chances of conception. 16 A study by fertility specialists at the prestigious Cleveland Clinic found that lycopene can boost sperm quality by up to 70 per cent. 17
A recent study conducted by fertility experts at the University of Sheffield found that LactoLycopene supplementation significantly increases the percentage of fast progressive sperm as well as normal and healthy sperm forms. These two measures partly influence sperm quality, and sperm quality is directly linked to chances of conception.
Since sperm production 70 days on average, it is important to maintain appropriate levels of lycopene in the blood during that time frame to ensure the potential beneficial effect.
Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant that is found in the skin of tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables. Numerous studies have shown that it can have a range of benefits, especially for the heart and circulatory system. More recent work has revealed men’s health applications such as the treatment of prostate issues and the ability of lycopene to increase the proportion of high-quality sperm that a man produces.
It is difficult to get enough lycopene to make a difference from diet alone, although processed tomato products are known to contain more.
- Seven Countries Study, The first study to relate to diet with cardiovascular disease
- Rodríguez-Monforte M, Flores-Mateo G, Sánchez E. Dietary patterns and CVD: a systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies. Br J Nutr. 2015 Nov 14;114(9):1341-59. doi: 10.1017/S0007114515003177.
- Jouni Karppi, Jari A. Laukkanen, Juhani Sivenius, Kimmo Ronkainen, Sudhir Kurl. Serum lycopene decreases the risk of stroke in men. Neurology Oct 2012, 79 (15) 1540-1547; DOI: 10.1212/WNL.0b013e31826e26a6
- Gajendragadkar, PR. Hubsch, A. Maki-Petaja, K. Serg, M. Wilkinson, IB. Cheriyan, J. Oral Lycopene Supplementation Improves Endothelial Function in Patients with Cardiovascular Disease: A Randomised Controlled Trial. Circulation. 2012;126:A10021
- Cheriyan J. et al. Effects of Oral Lycopene Supplementation on Vascular Function in Patients with Cardiovascular Disease and Healthy Volunteers: A Randomised Controlled Trial. PLOS 1. June 9, 2014
- Howard D. Sesso, Simin Liu, J. Michael Gaziano, Julie E. Buring. Dietary Lycopene, Tomato-Based Food Products and Cardiovascular Disease in Women. The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 133, Issue 7, July 2003, Pages 2336–2341
- Jacques PF, Lyass A, Massaro JM, Vasan RS, D'Agostino RB Sr. Relationship of lycopene intake and consumption of tomato products to incident CVD. Br J Nutr. 2013;110(3):545–551
- Xinli Li and Jiuhong Xu. Lycopene Supplement and Blood Pressure: An Updated Meta-Analysis of Intervention Trials. Nutrients 2013, 5(9), 3696-3712
- NHS, Prostate Cancer. Conditions.
- Prostate Cancer UK, Are you at risk? Prostate information.
- NHS, Prostate enlargement. Conditions.
- NHS, Prostatitis. Conditions.
- Silke Schwarz, Ute C. Obermüller-Jevic, Eva Hellmis, Winfried Koch, Günther Jacobi, Hans-Konrad Biesalski,Lycopene Inhibits Disease Progression in Patients with Benign Prostate Hyperplasia, The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 138, Issue 1, January 2008, Pages 49–53
- Chen P, Zhang W, Wang X, et al. Lycopene and Risk of Prostate Cancer: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Medicine (Baltimore). 2015;94(33):e1260
- Levine H, Jørgensen N, Martino-Andrade A, Mendiola J, Weksler-Derri D, Mindlis I, Pinotti R, Swan SH. Temporal trends in sperm count: a systematic review and meta-regression analysis. Hum Reprod Update. 2017 Nov 1;23(6):646-659
- Ross, C. et al. A systematic review of the effect of oral antioxidants on male infertility. Reproductive BioMedicine Online, Volume 20, Issue 6, 711 - 723
- Durairajanayagam D. Agarwal A. Ong C. Prashast P. Lycopene and male infertility. Asian J Androl. 2014 May-Jun; 16(3): 420–425