According to British researchers, people over the age of 65 who are taking the dietary supplements lycopene or beta-carotene with the hope that they are bolstering their immune systems may be wasting their time and money. "Supplementation with relatively low levels of beta-carotene or lycopene is not associated with either a beneficial or detrimental effect on several aspects of (immune cell health)," the researchers write in the August issue of the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. According to Dr. B. M. Corridan of Norwich Research Park in Colney, UK, and colleagues, as people age, their immune system begins to weaken. Previous research has suggested that a diet rich in tomato products, which contain the antioxidants lycopene and beta-carotene, might help protect infection-fighting white blood cells from damage inflicted on them by free radical particles, which are a by-product of normal metabolism. The researchers monitored the immune systems of 52 healthy men and women over the age of 65. Volunteers were split into three different groups. All took a pill every day for 12 weeks. One group took 13.3 milligrams (mg) of lycopene, another took 8.3 mg of beta-carotene, and the third group took an inactive placebo. "Our results show no changes in the concentration or percentage of circulating white blood cells, lymphocytes or (other related cell types)," Corridan and colleagues report. "These results indicate that in this healthy elderly population, moderate supplementation with carotenoids has no beneficial or adverse effects on immune status," the authors conclude.