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Lycopene is a pigment molecule found in red- and pink-colored fruits and vegetables. This molecule, an antioxidant, gives color to foods such as watermelons, tomatoes and pink grapefruits. It is relatively easy to get plenty of lycopene in the diet, but for some people, lycopene supplements might be required to increase the amount of lycopene available for use in the body. The use of lycopene supplements should be considered carefully, however, and these products should be purchased only from a reputable manufacturer.
Lycopene is in a class of molecules called carotenoids. These are active in several organs and tissues, including the skin, blood, liver, lungs, adrenals, colon and prostate. Lycopene has antioxidant properties which, in the plant, help provide protection against oxidative damage caused by constant sun exposure. In humans, antioxidants help protect against similar types of cellular damage and are thought to play an important role in disease prevention.
Although the antioxidant effects of this molecule in humans have not been established, lycopene is thought to have many other benefits. For example, previous research into lycopene indicates that it might reduce the effects of asthma, play a protective role in preventing certain types of cancer, improve eye health, help control high blood pressure and reduce the symptoms of atherosclerosis, which is coronary artery disease. More research is required, however, before lycopene can be proven to be important in preventing or treating these conditions.
In many countries, tomatoes and tomato products such as tomato juice and tomato-based sauces are the most important sources of lycopene. This nutrient does not have a recommended dietary allowance, because it is not an essential nutrient, but it has been suggested on the basis of population studies that 6.5 milligrams per day is a sufficient intake. This amount of lycopene can be obtained by eating one quarter of a cup of canned tomatoes, two fresh tomatoes, one cup of watermelon or one-third of a cup of tomato soup or a tomato-based sauce.
People who eat tomatoes or tomato products on a regular basis will have little or no trouble getting plenty of lycopene. People who don’t eat these foods might benefit from taking lycopene supplements to ensure that they get all the lycopene they need. Lycopene supplements might also be suggested by some doctors for people with certain health conditions.
When purchasing lycopene supplements or any other type of dietary supplement, it is important to choose products made by companies that follow Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP). This is a set of global standards to which companies producing supplements can choose to adhere. Lycopene dietary supplements that are GMP-compliant are made according to the same standards as pharmaceutical drugs and are subject to the same standards of production and testing to ensure that the products are of high quality.
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