Lycopene is liposoluble compound that belongs to the carotenoid group that is responsible for the red color in most dietary sources especially fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes, guava, papaya, watermelon and cherries. It is a highly unsaturated open straight-chain hydrocarbon that consists of eleven conjugated and two unconjugated double-bonds. Unlike other carotenoids, lycopene lacks the terminal beta-iconic ring in its structure as well as the ability to portray provitamin A activity. The most common sources are tomatoes as it is not synthesized by animals or humans. Since the molecule is lipid soluble, it is best absorbed in oil-rich foods such as pasta sauces or egg yolks. Despite being a carotene, Lycopene does not have vitamin A activity since it cannot be converted to vitamin A like other pro-vitamins such as, alpha, beta and gamma carotene. Processing of such foods converts Lycopene into a form that is utilized by the human body.
It is a powerful antioxidant that protects damage to organs of the body. First, it prevents the deleterious oxidative effects by deactivating the singlet oxygen that is harmful to the body. Dietary Lycopene has been shown to prevent the unwanted oxidation of lipids, proteins and DNA. As such, lycopene has a quenching ability towards singlet ion. The highly conjugated double bond in lycopene’s structure plays the most important role in such reaction involving energy transfer. It is active than other active carotenoids like beta-carotene. Therefore, Lycopene just like other antioxidants is effective in maintaining a healthy cell by maintain the, strength and fluidity of the cell membranes. Additionally, due to the antioxidation property it protects the low-density cholesterol from being oxidized by free radicals and as such not deposited in vascular structures as plaque.
Lycopene is important for vision as well. This compound minimizes the risk of macular degeneration hence helping curb age-related eye problems. It is also crucial in maintaining bone health. It promotes decreased bone resorption hence decreased breakdown of bone, coupled with increased antioxidant activity and reduction oxidative stress (abnormal free radical levels) promoted bone growth and development.
Lycopene has the ability to promote a healthy inflammatory response as well that not only aids in its immune supportive function but also protection of the skin and maintaining a healthy skin. It is beneficial to the skin as it keeps it healthy and youthful looking by protecting it from the toxins in the environment. Lycopene also protects the skin from harmful ultra violet rays of the sun. Topical application of Lycopene was shown to reverse the reduction of proliferating cell nuclear antigen (PCNA) an important substance for DNA synthesis and cell repair. Lycopene therefore stabilizes the DNA structure in the nucleus of the skin cells. Lycopene also has the ability to enhance communication and connectivity between cells thereby improving skin texture. It not only preventive against the age-related free radicals but also supports metabolic functions related to growth and repair by inhibiting the activity of enzymes involved in the breakdown and destruction of collagen.
Lycopene also plays a protective role in supporting cardiovascular health due to its antioxidant property and ability to minimize the levels of oxidized LDLs that play a key role in the pathogenesis of arteriosclerosis that clogs the arteries. Lycopene also, reduces the total cholesterol level thus maintain a low risk of interfering with cardiovascular health.
Even though the recommended daily allowance of Lycopene is yet to be known, it is worth noting that eating of raw sources such as tomatoes only provides a small amount of the bioavailable lycopene since it is tightly bound to indigestible fiber hence preventing the phytonutrient from being absorbed effectively by the body. As such, it is crucial to consume lycopene in combination with other vitamins and minerals that have recommended daily allowances.