The carotenoid behind the red of tomatoes, lycopene, could also be the key to curing many degenerative diseases and even slowing the aging process. Various scientific studies have confirmed the curative effects of lycopene. Now’s Aaron Priel takes a look at the commercial developments currently underway for the “wonder carotenoid”.

The lycopene and synergistic phytonutrients found in tomatoes and tomato products may provide some hope for people suffering from lung cancer, according to research recently published in the journal Biofactors, which suggests that they could prevent the deadly disease.
Lycopene, a carotenoid in the same family as beta carotene, is what gives tomatoes their deep red colour. As such it is found in many red-coloured foods, not just tomatoes and tomato products, but also pink grapefruits, watermelons and guava fruits. But according to a statement by LycoRed Natural Products Industries Ltd, lycopene “is not just a colourant, it is a powerful antioxidant that has shown remarkable fighting power against degenerative diseases.”

Several studies

Several recent studies have shown that a diet rich in tomatoes and tomato products is strongly linked to a reduced risk of certain cancers and may actually help prevent prostate cancer. Omer Kucuk, MD, a professor of medicine and oncology, and his colleagues at the Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit, Mich., evaluated the effect that encapsulated lycopene had on patients with existing prostate cancer. The study showed that those patients who took Lycopene supplements had smaller tumours, which were more likely confined to the prostate.

In a six-year study of 48,000 male health professionals, meanwhile, Dr Edward Giovannucci and colleagues at the Harvard Medical School found that consuming tomatoes, tomato sauce or pizza more than twice a week, as opposed to never, was associated with a reduced risk of prostate cancer of 21% to 34%, depending on the food.

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And another study published by the International Journal of Cancer said that lycopene appears to protect consumers against cancer of the mouth, pharynx, stomach colon and rectum. “Researchers at the University of Illinois report that women with the highest lycopene levels had a five-fold lower risk of developing precancerous signs of cervical cancer than women with lowest lycopene levels,” it concluded.

Destroys free radicals

Because of its unique chemical structure, lycopene is considered to be among the best known biological quenchers of free radicals, especially those derived from oxygen. Recent findings indicate that lycopene plays an important part in the natural mechanism that protects organisms from the damaging effect of free radicals, thus protecting us against the onset of degenerative diseases, according to LycoRed Natural Products.

Scientists believe that excess oxidative stress plays an important role in the initiation and promotion of atherosclerosis, cancer, arthritis and other degenerative diseases. Exposure to environmental perils, such as smoking, pollution, or irradiation, increases the oxidative stress beyond the ability of the organism’s defence system to cope with it. “The natural mechanism which protects us from free radicals weakens with age. Therefore, the elderly, smokers and those exposed to environmental hazards, are more susceptible to degenerative diseases.”

The company added that lycopene is an antioxidant that can donate electrons to quench and neutralise free radical oxygen molecules before they damage cells. “Free radical oxygen molecules are thought to be the source of aging and the cause of a number of degenerative diseases.”

Product potential

LycoRed Natural Products is currently engaged in the scientific and commercial development, production and marketing of natural products based on the cartenoid lycopene, and the introduction of other natural products presently in various stages of research. The management and production headquarters of LycoRed is based in Israel’s Negev desert city of Beer-Sheva. From this base, LycoRed coordinates commercial growing of a specially bred tomato variety rich in lycopene, and carries out extraction and formulations using proprietary processing technology.

The company markets the resulting bioactive natural lycopene products worldwide to manufacturers in the foods, dietary supplements, nutraceuticals and functional foods industries. The leading products processed and marketed by LycoRed include Lyc-O-Mato™ and Tomat-O-Red™, a natural colour additive.

By Aaron Priel, correspondent