Lycopene Supplements Review
Posted: 1/13/2019 Last update: 10/11/2019
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- What is it? Lycopene is a red-colored, fat-soluble, antioxidant carotenoid found in tomatoes, watermelon, and other red or pink fruits and berries.
- Does it help? Higher intakes of lycopene-rich foods (typically from tomato-based products) are associated with lower risks of certain cancers. There is evidence that lycopene supplementation may also decrease the risk of certain cancers and/or death from cancer. There is preliminary evidence that lycopene can reduce elevated blood pressure and lycopene-rich foods may slightly reduce elevated levels of cholesterol. Lycopene, or foods rich in it, may also help protect the skin from UV light damage. Lycopene may also be helpful in cases of male infertility. (See What It Does).
- Which brand is best? ConsumerLab's tests revealed that one product contained only 60% of its listed lycopene; pills strengths ranged from 5 mg to 30 mg; and the cost to get a 10 mg dose of lycopene ranged from just 7 cents to 53 cents. Our current and previous tests of lycopene supplements suggest that it may be best to choose a softgel or capsule, rather than a tablet (see What CL Found). Among products that passed testing, CL selected one as its Top Pick for providing a substantial dose of high-quality lycopene at low cost.
- How to use? If you think you don't get enough from foods, consider a supplement providing 5 to 10 mg of lycopene. Lycopene — from food or supplements -- is best absorbed when taken with a meal containing fats or oils. (See What to Consider When Using).
- Concerns? Lycopene from supplements or foods is generally safe but can cause gastrointestinal symptoms or allergic reactions in some people (see Concerns and Cautions).
What It Is:
Lycopene is a fat-soluble red pigment and powerful antioxidant found in tomatoes, pink grapefruit, watermelons, apricots, and pink guavas. On a per gram basis, lycopene is about twice as powerful an antioxidant as another well-known carotenoid, beta-carotene.
What It Does:
As discussed below, there is some evidence from observational studies that higher intakes of lycopene-containing foods, such as tomatoes, may reduce the risk of certain types of cancer, but it is indirect and far from definitive. There is also preliminary evidence that supplementing with lycopene might prevent precancerous cells in the prostate from being malignant and reduce the growth of existing tumors in the prostate. The FDA concluded in 2005 that while there was "very limited evidence" to support an association between tomato consumption and reduced risks of various cancers, there was "no credible evidence" of such an association for lycopene itself (Kavanaugh, J Natl Cancer Inst 2007). Interestingly, however, an analysis of data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), among approximately 30,000 adults in the U.S., found that lycopene supplementation was associated with an 18% lower risk of all-cause mortality and a 34% lower risk of cancer-related death over a period of time; no other dietary supplement was associated with a reduced risk of death (Chen, Ann Intern Med 2019).
A large observational study of elderly Americans found that those who consumed the most tomatoes had a 50% lower risk of death from cancer compared to those who consumed the least (Colditz Am J Clin Nutr 1985). Higher tomato consumption has also been associated with a lower risk of stomach cancer, and some, but not all studies, have found higher consumption is associated with a reduced risk of colorectal cancer is mixed. There is some evidence that lycopene intake in the diet is associated with a decreased risk of pancreatic cancer, lung cancer, and ovarian cancer in premenopausal women. (Giovannucci, J Natl Cancer Inst 1991).
A number of studies have investigated the association between lycopene and/or tomato intake and prostate cancer. A large observational study in the U.S., for example, found that a high intake of lycopene reduced the risk of prostate cancer by 21%, and a high intake of tomatoes and tomato products was associated with a 35% lower risk of total prostate cancer, and a 53% lower risk of advanced prostate cancer. Tomato sauce (2 to 4 servings/week) had the strongest inverse association with prostate cancer risk, while weaker associations were found with tomatoes and pizza, but not tomato juice (Giovannucci, J Natl Cancer Inst 1995). However, not all studies have found such strong associations, and a more recent analysis of available studies (including the one above) concluded that, overall, "tomato intake may have a weak protective effect against prostate cancer." (Xu, Sci Rep 2016).
A few small studies have found a potential benefit with lycopene supplementation and prostate cancer. A preliminary study in men with precancerous changes in the prostate found that 4 mg of lycopene (Lyc-O-Mato) taken twice daily for one year appeared to help prevent precancerous cells in the prostate from turning cancerous compared to no lycopene supplementation (Mohanty, Urol Oncol 2005). Another study found that a higher dose of the same lycopene supplement (15 mg taken twice daily with meals) reduced tumor growth when given for three weeks prior to surgical removal of the prostate compared to a control group that did not receive lycopene supplements before surgery (Kucuk, Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 2001).
In a study among 58 middle-aged men and women with leukoplakia, a precancerous condition of the mouth and mucous membranes, 8 mg of lycopene taken daily as a supplement (LycoRed) for three months significantly reduced the size and severity of lesions compared to placebo. A daily dose of 4 mg also reduced the size and severity of lesions compared to placebo, although it was less effective than the higher dose (Singh, Oral Oncology 2003).
See the Cancer Prevention article in the Encyclopedia on this site for information about other supplements of potential value in cancer prevention. Also see ConsumerLab.com's Product Reviews of green tea, selenium, folate, garlic, isoflavones (soy and red clover), vitamin C and vitamin D.
Some observational studies suggest that intake of lycopene-rich foods like tomatoes reduce cardiovascular risk. For example, a large study among middle-aged and elderly women found those who consumed 10 servings of tomato-based products per week had a 29% lower risk of cardiovascular disease and a 57% lower risk of heart attack than those who consumed fewer than 1.5 servings per week (Sesso, Am J Clin Nutr 2003).
Lycopene inhibits the same enzyme involved in cholesterol production that is targeted by statin drugs (HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors) and there is evidence that consuming lycopene-rich foods and lycopene supplements can help to lower total and "bad" LDL cholesterol, although it does not appear to increase "good" HDL cholesterol (Mozos, Front Pharmacol 2018). A review of 12 clinical trials lasting between two weeks and six months that investigated the effects of lycopene from tomatoes, tomato-based foods (sauce, paste, soup etc.) and/or lycopene supplements in middle-aged and older adults concluded that daily doses of 25 mg or more of lycopene lowered average total and LDL cholesterol levels by about 7 mg/dL and 10 mg/dL, respectively. Lycopene intakes below 25 mg per day did not lower cholesterol (Reid, Maturas 2011).
There is evidence that lycopene supplements may help to lower blood pressure in people with high blood pressure. In a study of 31 men and women with stage 1 hypertension, a capsule of 15 mg of lycopene (from Lyc-O-Mato) taken daily with a meal for two months reduced average systolic and diastolic blood pressure by 9 mm Hg and 4 mm Hg, respectively, compared to placebo. Supplementation did not decrease total or LDL cholesterol levels, but, as noted above, a higher dose (> 25 mg per day) may be needed to lower cholesterol (Engelhard, Am Heart J 2006).
Lycopene may also have anti-inflammatory and blood-thinning effects that may be beneficial for cardiovascular health, but more research is needed (Mozos, Front Pharmacol 2018).
Benign prostate hyperplasia (BPH)
Lycopene supplements are sometimes promoted for decreasing symptoms of enlarged prostate, also known as benign prostate hyperplasia or BPH, but research to-date does not support this use. A six-month study in Germany among 37 older men with BPH found that while prostate growth tended to be slower in those who took a daily lycopene supplement (15 mg of lycopene from LycoVit, a synthetic form of lycopene from BASF), the difference was not significant compared to placebo. Similarly, there was no significant change in PSA levels compared to placebo. The supplement was well-tolerated and there were no adverse effects. Men in both groups consumed an average of 4 mg of lycopene per day through their diet (Schwarz, J Nutr 2008).
Lycopene has been shown to reduce oxidative damage in sperm, which is associated with infertility in men. A review of six small clinical studies found lycopene supplementation (4 - 8 mg daily for 3-12 months) to be beneficial in the treatment of male infertility, improving measures of sperm health and increasing pregnancy rates; one study reported a 70% increase in sperm count and a 54% increase in sperm motility in infertile men taking 8 mg of lycopene daily (Durairajanayagam, AJA 2014).
A placebo-controlled study in England among 56 healthy young men found that taking 7 mg of lycopene taken twice daily for three months did not increase the overall concentration of motile ("moving") sperm, but did significantly improve the percentage of motile sperm that were healthy-shaped (nearly doubling from 7.5% to 13.5%) or that were fast moving in a forward direction (increasing from 10.6% to 14.76%). The lycopene used was LactoLycopene (from Cambridge Nutraceuticals Ltd — which partially funded the study but did not participate in the design, data analysis or writing of the study) (Williams, Eur J Nutr 2019). This formulation is claimed to enhance lycopene absorption, although an earlier study found its bioavailability is only equivalent to that of lycopene from tomato paste (Richelle, J Nutr 2002).
Carotenoids such as beta-carotene, astaxanthin and lycopene from foods and supplements are absorbed into the skin and may help protect the skin from oxidative damage and/or ultraviolet (UV) damage from the sun (Darvin, Molecules 2011).
A small study among women in England found that consuming 55 grams of tomato paste in olive oil (providing 16 mg of lycopene) daily for three months decreased measures of tissue damage and redness from exposure to an artificial source of ultraviolet radiation compared to consuming the olive oil alone (Rizwan, Br J Dermatol 2011).
A small, company-funded study in Germany among men and women found that two capsules of a "tomato nutrient complex" (Lycopene-Rich Tomato Nutrient Complex, Lycored) taken twice daily (providing a total of 20 mg of lycopene) for three months prevented genetic damage in skin cells of the upper buttock when exposed to ultraviolet radiation compared to placebo (Grether-Beck, Br J Dermatol 2017). There do not appear to be any studies on the effects of dietary lycopene or lycopene supplementation on skin aging or wrinkles.
Other potential uses for lycopene which have been studied include the prevention of preeclampsia in pregnancy and treatment of gingivitis. See the Encyclopedia for more information about studies of lycopene.
Quality Concerns and What CL Tested For:
Like other supplements, neither the FDA nor any other federal or state agency routinely tests lycopene supplements for quality prior to sale. However, quality issues can include the following:
ConsumerLab.com, as part of its mission to independently evaluate products that affect health, wellness, and nutrition, purchased commonly available lycopene supplements and tested them to determine whether they 1) possessed the claimed amount of lycopene and 2) were able to disintegrate fully to be available for absorption (see Testing Methods and Passing Score).
- Labeled Amount — Does the product really contain the labeled amount of ingredient? Too little lycopene may not help.
- Ability to Break Apart for Absorption — Will the product break apart properly so that it can release its ingredient in the body? For a tablet to be most useful, it must fully disintegrate prior to leaving the stomach, delivering its contents for absorption in the gut. Some tablets are not properly made and can pass through your body completely or partially intact, depriving you of its ingredients. Remnants of such products are sometimes found in the stool. This happens, for example, when a tablet is too tightly compressed (too "hard") or is too thickly coated.