What Is It?
Health Benefits
Dosage Information

Guidelines for Use

General Interaction

Possible Side Effects



Evidence Based Rating Scale


What Is It?

Lycopene provides the red color of tomato products and is one of the major carotenoids in the diets of North Americans and Europeans. Lycopene is a prominent member of the carotenoid family. In plants, lycopene is similar to other carotenoids, serving as a light-absorbing pigment during photosynthesis and protecting cells against photosensitization. Interest in lycopene began to grow after numerous epidemiological studies implicated lycopene-rich foods in the prevention of cancer and cardiovascular disease. A diet rich in foods containing carotenoids is associated with several health benefits. Lycopene has unique structural and chemical features that may contribute to its biological actions in humans.

More than 80% of lycopene consumed in the United States is derived from tomato products, although apricots, papaya, pink grapefruit, guava, and watermelon also contribute to dietary intake. The lycopene content of tomatoes can vary substantially depending on the type of tomato and its ripeness. In the reddest strains of tomatoes, lycopene concentration is close to 50 mg per kg, compared to only 5 mg per kg in the yellow strains. Several observations support the concept that cooking and food processing enhance the bioavailability of carotenoids, including lycopene. Heating foods prior to eating can improve lycopene absorption in the body, e.g., lycopene absorption may be greater after ingestion of tomato paste rather than fresh tomatoes. Also, Fat seems to enhance lycopene absorption from the gastrointestinal tract.

Health Benefits

Many of the reported health benefits of lycopene are attributed to its ability to protect cells against oxidative damage. Although less research has focused on lycopene compared to other carotenoids, studies suggest that lycopene is a more potent scavenger of oxygen radicals than other major dietary carotenoids.

The basic science of lycopene is currently being established along with efforts toward evidence-based human intervention studies. Several studies have reported anticancer effects of lycopene in cell cultures where lycopene has demonstrated antiproliferative effects. (1, 2)

Specifically, lycopene may help to:

Reduce the risk of certain cancers. A number of studies have looked at the association between lycopene intake and a variety of types of cancers of the digestive tract. Two large case-control studies have linked lycopene consumption to reduced risk of esophageal cancers. In northern Iran, where esophageal cancer is common, a case-control study found that weekly tomato consumption was associated with a 40% reduction in cancer risk in men; although no association was found between tomato consumption and risk of esophageal cancer in women. (3) A series of case-control studies conducted in Italy between 1985 and 1991 found that consumption of seven or more servings of tomato products per week, compared to less than two servings per week, was associated with a 50% reduced risk of gastric cancer. (5) Also, in the same study, there was a 60% reduced risk of colon cancer among subjects consuming tomato products daily compared to those consuming tomato products on a weekly basis. (8) A 1998 study in the United States found that men who ate a diet that included high amounts of tomato products had a 30% reduced risk of esophageal cancer. (4)

However, in an article published in Cancer in 2000, results from a six-year cohort study of more than 120,000 men and women ages 55 to 69 found no correlation between lycopene intake and incidence of gastric cancer. (6) In a 2007 evidence-based review, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found only limited evidence to support an association between lycopene intake or tomato consumption with a reduced risk of gastric cancer. (7)  

In a 2003 study that measured lycopene levels in patients undergoing colonoscopy, 73 patients with colorectal adenomas, precursors to colon cancer, had significantly lower plasma levels of lycopene than a control group of 63 patients with no polyps suggesting a potentially protective effect of high tomato intake against the risk of colon cancer. Smoking was an additional risk factor identified in the study. (9) However, conflicting evidence exists. In a large case-control study known as the Melbourne Colorectal Cancer Study, conducted in Melbourne, Australia, when dietary factors that were potentially associated with colon cancer risk were compared in 715 patients with colon cancer and 727 randomly selected sex and age matched controls from the community, lycopene intake had no effect on colon cancer risk. (10) In a 2007 analysis of 11 cohort studies involving 7,885 cases of colon cancer among 702,647 participants, results indicated that carotenoids including lycopene did not play an important role in the etiology of colon cancer. (11) Another large cohort study involving more than 85,000 men and 105,000 women with 1,292 and 1,086 cases of colon cancer, respectively, showed no significant effects between intake of individual and total carotenoids and a decreased colon cancer risk in either men or women. In fact, when investigated separately for colon and rectal cancer, lycopene intake was associated with an increased risk of rectal cancer in men. (12)

Contradictory evidence also exists about the relationship between breast cancer and lycopene. Preliminary epidemiological evidence indicated that higher serum levels of lycopene were associated with reduced breast cancer risk. (13)   However, in a 2005 prospective cohort study of dietary lycopene and its food sources evaluated in 39,876 women, neither higher dietary nor plasma lycopene levels were associated with a reduced risk of breast cancer in middle-aged and older women. (14) In the 2007 evidence-based review by the FDA, data showed limited evidence to support an association between lycopene intake or tomato consumption with a reduced risk of breast cancer. (7)  However, some positive relationships between lycopene and reduced risk of breast cancer were shown in the Women's Health Initiative studies and in the Shanghai Women's Health Study when subgroups of carotenoids were examined, but these effects have not been examined individually in clinical trials. (15, 16) More research is needed.

Studies are exploring the link between lycopene and skin cancer. Results suggest the possibility that diets low in tomato products and lycopene could lead to reduced lycopene concentrations in the skin, and increase the risk for sunlight-induced skin damage. In a 2004 case-control study of 502 newly diagnosed patients with melanoma and 565 control participants, patients with a diet high in lycopene had a significantly reduced risk of melanoma. However, lycopene supplementation did not provide an additional reduction in risk. (17) More research is needed.

Several studies have also examined the relationship between prostate cancer and lycopene. One large prospective study was conducted on a cohort of Seventh Day Adventist men who completed a questionnaire in 1976 and were followed over a six-year period. Consumption of tomato products was significantly associated with a reduced risk of prostate cancer. The relative risk was 0.60 for men who consumed tomatoes more than five times per week, compared to those who consumed less than one serving per week. (18) In one of the largest, most comprehensive studies evaluating prostate cancer risk and lycopene, a cohort of more than 47,800 men  completed a 131-item questionnaire in 1986 and every few years after. Men with higher estimated lycopene content in their diets had a lower risk of developing prostate cancer. A risk reduction of 35% was observed for men who consumed ten or more servings of tomato products per week compared to those with fewer than 1.5 servings per week. Interestingly, tomato sauce accounted for the strongest reduction in risk for any one specific food item. (19) But a 2004 meta-analysis of 11 studies found that while tomato products play a role in preventing prostate cancer, their role is modest and requires high amounts of tomato intake. (20) Additionally, a large-scale epidemiological study in 2006 showed no association between dietary lycopene intake and prostate cancer risk except in a subgroup of men with a family history of prostate cancer where lycopene intake was associated with a lower risk. (21) The role of lycopene supplementation is not yet clear. Preliminary evidence shows that in men with existing high-grade prostate intraepithelial neoplasia (pre-malignant cellular changes seen in biopsy specimens), taking 4 mg of lycopene twice daily may delay or prevent progression to prostate cancer. (22) More research is needed. However, preliminary evidence indicates lycopene may worsen established prostate cancer by increasing metastasis without having any effect on cancer cell proliferation. Therefore, men with established prostate cancer should avoid using lycopene until more is known. (27) 

Prevent heart disease. The relationship between lycopene and cardiovascular disease is also being studied. Scientists hypothesize that lycopene can positively influence cholesterol metabolism because of its Antioxidant properties. Researchers suggest that lycopene may be able to moderately lower cholesterol levels. In a major European study, men who ate large amounts of lycopene-rich foods were 50% less likely to have a heart attack than men who consumed little lycopene. Nonsmokers experienced the most benefit. (23) Some epidemiological research also suggests that women with higher serum lycopene levels have a reduced risk of developing heart disease. (24) However, conflicting evidence exists. A seven-year prospective cohort study of 39,876 middle-aged and older women assessed whether intake of lycopene or tomato-based foods is associated with cardiovascular disease prevention. Results from the study showed no association between dietary lycopene intake and the risk of heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular events in women. (25) And as part of the Physicians' Health Study, a prospective, case-control study followed male physicians without prior history of heart disease for 13 years to examine the correlation between carotenoid intake and cardiovascular events, such as heart attack. In this study, dietary intake of lycopene was not associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, such as heart attack. (26) 


  • Food
  • Capsules
  • Tablet 

Dosage Information 

The majority of benefits from lycopene appear to come from food rather than supplements. Eating ten or more servings of tomato-based products (tomato paste, tomato sauce, etc.) weekly has been shown to have the most beneficial effect. 

Additional supplementation for the public has not been recommended. 

Guidelines for Use 

Lycopene is generally safe when taken in amounts commonly found in foods. 

Taking lycopene-containing foods that have been cooked and are in combination with others that contain some Fat may help the body to absorb this compound more readily. 

General Interaction 

Taking beta-carotene in conjunction with lycopene may increase lycopene absorption. Consult a physician for appropriate dosage when taking lycopene in conjunction with beta-carotene.  

Possible Side Effects 

There are no known side effects. 


Because little is known about the safety of using lycopene supplements, women who are pregnant or are breastfeeding should consult a physician before use. 

Avoid taking large amounts of any one carotenoid, such as lycopene, as a supplement; doing so may decrease the usefulness of other carotenoids to the body and appears to increase a variety of risks. 


1. Obermuller-Jevic UC, Olano-Martin E, Corbacho AM, et al. Lycopene inhibits the growth of normal human prostate epithelial cells in vitro. J Nutr 2003;133:3356-60.
2.Rao AV, Agarwal S. Role of antioxidant lycopene in cancer and heart disease. J Am Coll Nutr 2000;19:563-9.
3.Cook-Mozaffari PJ, Azordegan F, Day NE, et al. Oesophageal cancer studies in the Caspian Littoral of Iran: results of a case-control study. Br J Cancer. 1979;39:293-309.
4. Brown LM, Blot WJ, Schuman SH, et al. Environmental factors and high risk of esophageal cancer among men in coastal South Carolina. J Natl Cancer Inst. 1988;80:1620-5.
5. Franceschi S, Bidoli E, La Vecchia C, et al. Tomatoes and risk of digestive-tract cancers. Int J Cancer. 1994 Oct 15;59(2):181-4.
6. Botterweck AA, van den Brandt PA, Goldbohm RA. Vitamins, carotenoids, dietary fiber, and the risk of gastric carcinoma: results from a prospective study after 6.3 years of follow-up. Cancer, 2000. Feb 15;88(4):737-48.
7. Kavanaugh CJ, Trumbo PR, Ellwood KC. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration's evidence-based review for qualified health claims: tomatoes, lycopene, and cancer. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2007 Jul 18;99(14):1074-85.
8. Franceschi S, Favero A, La Vecchia C, Negri E, Conti E, Montella M, et al. Food groups and risk of colorectal cancer in Italy. Int J Cancer 1997;72:56-61.
9. Erhardt JG, Meisner C, Bode JC, Bode C. Lycopene, beta-carotene and colorectal adenomas. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003 Dec;78(6):1219-24.
10. Kune G, Watson L. Colorectal cancer protective effects and the dietary micronutrients folate, methionine, vitamins B6, B12, C, E, selenium, and lycopene. Nutr Cancer. 2006;56(1):11-21.
11. Männistö S, Yaun SS, Hunter DJ, et al. Dietary carotenoids and risk of colorectal cancer in a pooled analysis of 11 cohort studies. Am J Epidemiol. 2007 Feb 1;165(3):246-55.
12. Park SY, Nomura AM, Murphy SP, et al. Carotenoid intake and colorectal cancer risk: the multiethnic cohort study. J Epidemiol. 2009;19(2):63-71.
13. Kim MK, Ahn SH, Lee-Kim. Relationship of serum alpha-tocopherol, carotenoids and retinol with the risk of breast cancer. Nutr Res 2001;21:797-809.
14. Sesso HD, Buring JE, Zhang SM, et al. Dietary and plasma lycopene and the risk of breast cancer. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2005 May;14(5):1074-81.
15. Kabat GC, Kim M, Adams-Campbell LL, et al. Longitudinal study of serum carotenoid, retinol, and tocopherol concentrations in relation to breast cancer risk among postmenopausal women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 Jul;90(1):162-9.
16. Dorjgochoo T, Gao YT, Chow WH, et al. Plasma carotenoids, tocopherols, retinol and breast cancer risk: results from the Shanghai Women Health Study (SWHS). Breast Cancer Res Treat. 2009 Sep;117(2):381-9.
17. Millen AE, Tucker MA, Hartge P, et al. Diet and melanoma in a case-control study. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2004 Jun;13(6):1042-51.
18. Mills PK, Beeson WL, Philips RL, Fraser GE. Cohort study of diet, lifestyle, and prostate cancer in Adventist men. Cancer 1989;64:598-604.
19. Giovannucci E, Ascherio A, Rimm EB, et al. Intake of carotenoids and retinol in relation to risk of prostate cancer. J Natl Cancer Inst. 1995 Dec 6;87(23):1767-76.
Etminan M, Takkouche B, Caamaño-Isorna F. The role of tomato products and lycopene in the prevention of prostate cancer: a meta-analysis of observational studies. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2004 Mar;13(3):340-5.
21. Kirsh VA, Mayne ST, Peters U, et al. A prospective study of lycopene and tomato product intake and risk of prostate cancer. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2006;15:92-8.
22. Mohanty NK, Saxena S, Singh UP, et al. Lycopene as a chemopreventive agent in the treatment of high-grade prostate intraepithelial neoplasia.
Urol Oncol. 2005;23:383-5.
23. Kardinaal AF, Aro A, Kark JD, et al.
Association between beta-carotene and acute myocardial infarction depends on polyunsaturated fatty acid status. The EURAMIC Study. European Study on Antioxidants, Myocardial Infarction, and Cancer of the Breast. Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol. 1995 Jun;15(6):726-32.
24. Sesso HD, Buring JE, Norkus EP, Gaziano JM. Plasma lycopene, other carotenoids, and retinol and the risk of cardiovascular disease in women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004;79:47-53.
25. Sesso HD, Liu S, Gaziano JM, et al. Dietary lycopene, tomato-based food products and cardiovascular disease in women. J Nutr. 2003 Jul;133(7):2336-41.

26. Hak AE, Stampfer MJ, Campos H, et al.
Plasma carotenoids and tocopherols and risk of myocardial infarction in a low-risk population of US male physicians. Circulation. 2003 Aug 19;108(7):802-7.
27. Forbes K, Gillette K, Sehgal I. Lycopene increases urokinase receptor and fails to inhibit growth or connexin expression in a metastatically passaged prostate cancer cell line: a brief communication. Exp Biol Med (Maywood) 2003;228:967-71.

Evidence Based Rating Scale

The Evidence Based Rating Scale is a tool that helps consumers translate the findings of medical research studies and what our clinical advisors have found to be efficacious in their personal practice into a visual and easy to interpret format. This tool is meant to simplify the information on supplements and therapies that demonstrate promise in the treatment of certain conditions.






Breast cancer


Conflicting evidence exists. A review by the FDA found little evidence to support a positive association between lycopene intake and reduced breast cancer risk, but several large cohort studies indicate potential benefits. More research is needed. (13-16)

Cardiovascular disease  

Results are conflicting. Large epidemiological research indicates efficacy in reducing risk in men and women, but conflicting evidence has shown no association between lycopene intake and risk of disease. (23-26)


Colon cancer  
Some evidence shows a positive correlation between high lycopene levels and decreased risk of colon cancer, but conflicting evidence exists. Large cohort studies have shown no significant association between lycopene and colon cancer r
Date Published: 04/19/2005
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