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Study unlocks lycopene’s heart health benefits

By Stephen Daniells , 28-Jan-2011
Last updated the 28-Jan-2011 at 14:29 GMT

South Korean researchers put tomatoes under the magnifying glass
South Korean researchers put tomatoes under the magnifying glass

Lycopene, the compound that gives tomatoes their red color, may benefit heart health by boosting the body’s natural antioxidant defenses and protecting against DNA damage, says a new study from South Korea.

A daily supplement of 15 milligrams for eight weeks was associated with increased activity of SOD (super oxide dismutase), a powerful antioxidant enzyme, as well as reductions in measures of DNA damage in white blood cells, according to results published in the journal Atherosclerosis.

Furthermore, the apparent benefits extended to a reduction in systolic blood pressure and a decrease in levels of high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hsCRP). CRP is a marker of inflammation and is reported to be an independent predictor of cardiovascular-related events.

“These results add to the growing literature on potential protective effects of the antioxidant lycopene in atherosclerosis through an anti-inflammatory effect and preserving endothelial function,” wrote the researchers, led by Jong Ho Lee from Yonsei University in South Korea.

Growing science and market for lycopene

Lycopene is an antioxidant that is present in red- and pink-colored fruits and vegetables. It has been shown to have heart, blood pressure, prostate, osteoporosis, skin and other benefits in both natural and synthetic forms.

As well as being used as a food coloring, it has also used for its functional properties in food supplements and some food and beverage products, particularly those targeting the ‘beauty-from-within’ market.

According to Mintel’s Global New Products Database (GNPD), globally there were over 500 global lycopene product launches between 2003 and 2009 in foods, supplements and cosmetics.

Study details

The South Korean researchers recruited 126 health men with an average age of 34 and an average BMI of 24 kg/m2, and randomly assigned them to receive a daily 6 or 15 milligram supplement of lycopene (Lyc-O-Mato, Lycored), or placebo for eight weeks.

At the end of the study the researchers reported that SOD activity increased by 2.37 units per milliliter in the high-dose group, compared with an increase of 1.73 units per milliliter in 6 mg group and a decrease in activity in the placebo group.

In addition, DNA damage was reduced in the high dose group, compared with the other groups. Endothelial function – the function of the cells lining blood vessels – was also improved significantly following the high dose group.

“Interestingly, the beneficial effects of lycopene supplementation on endothelial function were remarkable in subjects with relatively impaired endothelial cell function at initial level,” report the researchers.

CRP levels decreased by 57 percent in the high dose group, while no significant reductions were recorded in the other two groups, said the researchers.

“Subjects supplemented with 15-mg lycopene daily for 8-week also showed reduction in other cardiovascular risk factors, for example, an increase in LDL particle size,” report the researchers. “Since the lycopene capsule used in this study also contains beta-carotene (greater than 0.5 mg), the subjects in the 15-mg lycopene/day group had a 65 percent increase in lycopene concentration and a 20 percent increase in beta-carotene, which is a known effective antioxidant that inactivates free radicals, inversely correlates with CRP, and slows the progression of atherosclerosis.

“Therefore, a synergistic effect of lycopene and beta-carotene in the 15-mg lycopene/day group likely increased the beneficial effects on these atherosclerosis risk factors,” they added.

Source: Atherosclerosis
Published online ahead of print, doi:10.1016/j.atherosclerosis.2010.11.036
“Effects of lycopene supplementation on oxidative stress and markers of endothelial function in healthy men”
Authors: J.Y. Kim, J.K. Paik, O.Y. Kim, H.W. Park, J.H. Lee, Y. Jang, J.H. Lee

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