Lycopene, also known as psi-carotene, belongs to the family of organic pigments known as carotenoid. Plants and microorganisms both produce carotenoid, a lipid-soluble pigment. More than 700 different chemicals make up the carotenoid, which gives many fruits and vegetables their yellow, orange, and red colors. Approximately 90% of the carotenoids in the diet and human body are represented by β-carotene, α-carotene, lycopene, lutein, and cryptoxanthin .
Lycopene is present in many natural products. It is primarily found in red fruits and vegetables including tomatoes, pink grapefruits, pink guavas, apricots, and watermelons. Tomato is a major source of lycopene as well as vitamins A, C, and K, fiber, and carbohydrates, along with small amounts of iron, potassium, phosphorus, and sulfur. In addition, it contains low sodium, fat, and calories .
Biological Activities of Lycopene
One of the main causes of cardiovascular disease is thought to be an increase in oxidative stress. Heart failure, ischemia/reperfusion injury, and myocardial infarction are among the effects it has. The overproduction of reactive oxygen species (ROS) causes vasoconstriction and a decrease in the availability of nitric oxide (NO), which leads to the development of arterial hypertension. Additionally, ROS impairs the myocardium’s ability to control calcium, leading to arrhythmia and accelerating the remodeling of the heart by triggering signal hypertrophy and apoptosis. Much more significantly, ROS also initiates the formation of atherosclerotic plaques. Therefore, bioactive dietary components like lycopene may be crucial in counteracting these changes. It consists of a straight-chain, highly unsaturated hydrocarbon with 13 double bonds in total, 11 of which are conjugated bonds. Due to this structure, it is regarded as one of the strongest antioxidants in food. Lycopene is a highly effective antioxidant that, due to the high reactivity between the long polyene chain and free radicals, enables the elimination of singlet oxygen and the reduction of ROS .
In addition, reactive species like hydrogen peroxide, hydroxyl radicals, and nitrogen dioxide can be neutralized by lycopene. Additionally, it has been suggested that lycopene acts as a significant antioxidant by enhancing the activity of both enzymatic (such as superoxide dismutase, catalase, and peroxidase) and nonenzymatic (such as vitamins E and C) antioxidants in the cell .
According to scientific research, inflammation corresponds to and initiates a number of diseases related to the cardiovascular system as well as many others, including hypercholesterolemia, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. Based on atherosclerotic alterations in coronary heart disease (CHD), inflammation is thought to be the primary cause of the condition . The lipophilic structure of lycopene, which has a close interaction with the cell membrane and enables them to regulate the inflammatory mediator signaling pathways and activate the production of antioxidant genes, results in anti-inflammatory actions. Lycopene could prevent the production of different types of cytokines (including IL1, IL6, IL8, and TNF-α), chemokines, NO, and cyclooxygenase that could modulate the immunological response. It could also inhibit the nuclear factor kappa B (NF-κB) signaling pathway, which is known to be one of the causes of inflammation reaction, via bind to the IkB protein (inhibitor of nuclear factor kappa B) thereby maintaining its attachment to NF-κB and preventing its translocation to the nucleus .
High-density lipoprotein (HDL) functioning was found to be enhanced by lycopene in some studies. It is a well-known fact that atherosclerosis is an inflammatory process. Lycopene decreases inflammation with effects on neutrophils and macrophages. In fact, Lycopene actually has cardio-protective properties by influencing a number of atherosclerosis-related pathways .
Antihypertensive and Anti-Aggregative Effect
Lycopene has antihypertensive effects due to inhibition of the angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) and due to its antioxidant effect, reducing oxidative stress induced by angiotensin-II and indirectly enhancing production of nitric oxide in the endothelium. Paran et al. reported a reduction in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure in 54 patients with moderate hypertension who were treated with ACE inhibitors or calcium channel blockers, after 6 weeks of tomato extract supplementation, indicating a cause-effect relationship .
Lycopene also has an antiplatelet action that has been shown to be both in vivo and in vitro effective in preventing myocardial infarction and stroke. This effect is concentration dependant. The interaction with thromboxane, thrombin, collagen, von Willebrand factor, P-selectin, and inflammatory mediators, as well as the impact on calcium and cyclic guanosine monophosphate signaling and ADP-mediated aggregation, were some of the mechanisms taken into consideration in order to explain the reversible antiplatelet effect of lycopene .
Lycopene can inhibit carcinogenesis and atherosclerosis by protecting cellular macromolecules such proteins, lipids, DNA, and lipoproteins. Human lipid oxidation was elevated in diets devoid of tomato or lycopene. Patients with prostate cancer have reduced amounts of lycopene and greater levels of protein and serum lipid oxidation. As a result, the acyclic molecular structure and apolar properties of these molecules cause a rise in the rate of reactive singlet oxygen. Epidemiological research indicates that lycopene protects humans from developing prostate and colorectal cancer. Lycopene has been demonstrated in some tissue culture studies to inhibit cancer cell growth by interfering with the cell cycle and inducing apoptosis in the cancerous cells. Lycopene has been established as an important molecule for inhibition of breast cancer cell proliferation by attenuating the insulin-like growth factor 1 receptor (IGF-1R) pathway . Regarding its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, lycopene can also prevent cancer through some direct mechanisms, including modulating signaling, arresting cell cycles, inducting apoptosis and changing some enzymes and antioxidants. As a result, lycopene can stop the invasion, angiogenesis, and metastasis of various cancer cells .
It has been demonstrated in several in-vitro studies the anti-cancer effects of lycopene on prostate cancer cells are mediated through inhibiting cell proliferation, reducing DNA damages, inducing apoptosis, and arresting cell cycle. Lycopene has been found to have an effect via blocking DNA synthesis, which could significantly reduce cancer cell proliferation and growth of cancer cells in primary prostate epithelial cancer (PEC). Lycopene is protective in controlling the induction and metastatic phase of the prostate disease .
Various studies have assessed the significant impact of lycopene in increasing or decreasing the markers on patients’ serums, and overall controlling cancer progression. According to the findings of research in which men with newly diagnosed prostate cancer got it twice a day for three weeks, lycopene reduces the risk and growth of prostate cancer cells, and it also lowers the level of prostate specific antigen (PSA) .
- Leh H, Lee L. Lycopene: A Potent Antioxidant for the Amelioration of Type II Diabetes Mellitus. Molecules. 2022 [cited 2023 April 27]; 27: 1-20. Available form: https://www.mdpi.com/1420-3049/27/7/2335
- Khan U, Sevindik M, Zarrabi A, Nami M, Ozdemir B, Kaplan D, et al. Lycopene: Food Sources, Biological Activities, and Human Health Benefits. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity. 2021 [cited 2023 April 27]; 1-10. Available form: https://www.hindawi.com/journals/omcl/2021/2713511/
- Przybylska S, Tokarczyk G. Lycopene in the Prevention of Cardiovascular Diseases. International Journal of Molecular Sciences. 2022 [cited 2023 April 27]; 23: 1-23. Available form: https://www.mdpi.com/1422-0067/23/4/1957
- Mozos I, Stoian D, Caraba A, Malainer C, Horbańczuk J, Atanasov A. Lycopene and Vascular Health. Frontiers in Pharmacology. 2018 [cited 2023 April]; 9: 1-16. Available form: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5974099/
- Mirahmadi M, Azimi-Hashemi S, Saburi E, Kamali H, Pishbin M, Hadizadeh F. Potential inhibitory effect of lycopene on prostate cancer. Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy. 2020 [27cited 2023 May 17]; 129: 1-8. Available form: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0753332220306521?via%3Dihub