Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine Focused on Energetics of Food
Lycopene antioxidant activity is extremely important to plants, but the importance to human health is still unclear.
Partly because of this, there has been no established lycopene daily requirement.
However, studies have shown that eating foods with lycopene does reduce the risk of some types of cancer and possibly heart disease. Scientists are just not sure if it is the antioxidant activity that provides the benefits or if other mechanisms are involved.
The lycopene antioxidant is described as one of the most active antioxidants of all the carotenoid pigments. It is also the most common carotenoid found in the human body.
Carotenoids are organic chemicals that give plants their colors. Plant foods with lycopene are red, like tomatoes, in fact the name lycopene was derived from the scientific name for tomatoes, which is Solanum lycopersicum.
People cannot create carotenoids, they must obtain them from food, but since the importance to human health is not completely understood, there is no “RDA” or “RDI” for a person’s lycopene daily requirement.
Daily requirements for vitamins and minerals are either based on the amount necessary to prevent vitamin deficiency diseases or the average amount in the daily dietary intake of studied populations.
For example, vitamin C deficiency leads to scurvy, which is characterized by liver spots on the skin, spongy gums and bleeding from the nose and other mucous membranes. If the deficiency is not corrected, scurvy will eventually lead to death.
There are no known lycopene antioxidant deficiency diseases.
The reason that it is included in some dietary supplements, however, is because of scientific studies that indicate it may reduce the risk of some life threatening diseases and improve health.
The FDA regulates health claims made by manufacturers of dietary supplements and food stuffs. In 2005, they addressed the issue of a lycopene daily requirement and proposed health claims of foods with lycopene. There conclusion was that the limited scientific evidence suggests that consuming one-half to one cup of tomatoes or tomato sauce per week may reduce the risk of prostate cancer.
This is equivalent to less than 5 mg of lycopene per week. Other scientific literature states that, in order to be effective, the lycopene daily requirement should be set at 15mg/day.
Although there is little agreement among respected agencies as to the importance of the lycopene to human health, the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, the Institute of Medicine, the National Health Institute and other public health organizations do recognize that antioxidants may protect humans from chronic diseases.
All of these organizations support recommendations for increased consumption of fruits and vegetables rich in carotenoids. As previously mentioned, the lycopene antioxidant is one of the most active carotenoids and the most commonly found in the human body. In order to maintain a healthy supply in the body, it is necessary to consume foods with lycopene.
Other than tomatoes and tomato products, some common foods with lycopene content include watermelon, pink grapefruit, canned baked beans, sweet red peppers, and vegetable juice cocktail.
Concentration of the lycopene antioxidant is highest in tomato paste and sauces prepared with tomatoes and oil. The process of chopping and cooking in oil releases the lycopene antioxidant from the plant fibers and makes it more readily available to the human body.
For those of us who do not always eat the recommended 7-13 servings of fruits and vegetables per day--which means most of us--whole food supplements, rather than supplements containing individual nutrients such as lycopene) may help us achieve our health and wellness goals.
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