A study published in last month's European Journal of Nutrition reported that there were no signficant differences in bioavailability between a synthetic lycopene developed by vitamin maker BASF and the natural tomato lycopene made by LycoRed.
But a communication from the Israeli company argues that while bioavailablity is important, it is not enough to guarantee efficacy.
New research does indeed suggest that other phytonutrients along with lycopene could be responsible for its health benefits. A recent study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute suggested that taking supplements of lycopene may not be sufficient to fight against the onset of prostate cancer. Tests on rats showed that whole tomato powder was significantly more effective than lycopene alone.
Other researchers, focusing on the heart health benefits of tomatoes, show that lycopene plays a minor role in the fruit's protective effect. A UK firm, Provexis, has developed a concentrated tomato extract that contains no lycopene but has been shown to reduce the tendency for excessive blood clotting.
This is supported by new research from Japan, published in this month's British Journal of Nutrition, showing that a tomato could help prevent thrombotic diseases, such as myocardial infarction and stroke.
Lycopene will continue to grow however, for its use in both supplements and cosmetics. A recent report from Frost & Sullivan estimated the European market to be worth $34 million in 2003 with growth rates over 100 per cent.
This has spurred companies to find new ways to produce the carotenoid. A Spanish firm recently filed for novel foods approval for lycopene extracted from the fungus Blakeslea trispora.
LycoRed argues that there is no body of science to support the health benefits of fungal lycopene and like synthetic, it is simply another version of a stand-alone lycopene product that lacks the bioefficacy resulting from the synergy of lycopene with the other phytonutrients in natural tomatoes.