(Naturalhealth365) According to the National Cancer Institute, over 1.7 million new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in the United States this year – with the disease expected to claim the lives of over 609,000 people. As the search for non-toxic natural treatments continues, lycopene – a nutrient found in tomatoes – is impressing researchers with its ability to inhibit various types of cancer cell growth.
To learn more about lycopene’s amazing ability to impart cancer protection, read on.
Current studies build upon earlier lycopene research
Lycopene is a type of carotenoid, or disease-fighting natural pigment found in plants. It is lycopene that is responsible for the fire-engine red color of tomatoes, and the reddish-pinks of guavas and grapefruit.
Researchers have known of lycopene’s cancer-fighting effects since the mid-1980s, when researchers at Harvard University Medical School discovered that a diet rich in lycopene-packed tomatoes helped protect men from prostate cancer.
Now, brand-new analysis and research is showing just how potent a weapon lycopene can be in the battle against cancer.
A new review of studies published in Journal of Biological Regulators and Homeostatic Agents credits lycopene with interfering with the proliferation of cancer cells and slowing the progression of the disease. The team reported that lycopene also helps prevent malignant tumors from metastasizing, or spreading to other sites in the body.
Lycopene can also significantly decrease levels of cancer-promoting substances, such as insulin-like growth factor-1 and matrix metalloproteinases. In an additional study published in Journal of Cellular Physiology, tomato extracts were found to inhibit the cloning behavior of malignant cancer cells.
So, let’s narrow the focus, and take a look at the ways in which lycopene fights specific cancers.
Lycopene helps to combat deadly ovarian cancer
Ovarian cancer, which claimed the lives of 14,240 American women in 2016 alone, is considered the gynecological malignancy with the poorest survival rate.
Lycopene’s apparent potential to reduce the growth and spread of ovarian tumors is extremely encouraging – although more study is needed to confirm the effects.
In a study published in the prestigious American Journal of Cancer Research, researchers found that lycopene reduced the volume and quantity of tumors in mice that had been implanted with human ovarian cancer cells.
It seems that lycopene can “chip away” at tumors, reducing the number of rapidly-growing cancer cells and helping to foil attempts at growth.
The team reported that lycopene also limited the cancer’s ability to metastasize by reducing the expression of MMPs, or matrix metalloproteinases. These proteins help cancer invade surrounding tissues by breaking down the protective matrix between cells.
When the tumor-bearing mice were given the chemotherapy drugs paclitaxel and carboplatin, the lycopene potentiated the drugs, substantially increasing their effectiveness.
This finding raises the hope that lycopene supplementation may enable patients to take smaller amounts of cancer medications, thereby lessening the occurrence of toxic side effects.
The team also credited lycopene with “excellent” antioxidant capabilities. Because oxidative stress plays a major role in the development of ovarian cancer, anything that reduces it is believed to be beneficial.
Other research shows that lycopene can help prevent colorectal cancer.
A study involving over 1,000 participants found that people with higher lycopene levels could lower their risk of colorectal cancer by up to 64 percent, cutting their odds by as much as two-thirds.
Still other studies have linked lycopene consumption with reduced rates of breast and prostate cancer.
Lycopene has a positive effect on skin cancer
In a newly-published study in Journal of Cellular Biology, researchers discovered more about lycopene’s potential mechanisms against skin cancer.
In order to trigger cancerous mutations, the team exposed laboratory-generated skin cells to UV radiation at high levels. On cue, the cells began to hyperproliferate – or grow wildly out of control – and to lose their ability to self-destruct.
But, treating the cells with lycopene before the UV exposure reduced the cancerous changes – and helped cells regain their potential for pre-programmed death.
In other words, lycopene encouraged apoptosis – the ability of cancer cells to “commit suicide.”
In addition, researchers noted that the carotenoid seemed to help the cells’ nuclei readjust to a more normal rate of replication. (This impressive effect of lycopene’s could be almost be likened to bringing a runaway locomotive back under control).
How can I use lycopene to help prevent cancer?
Eating healthy amounts of reddish fruits and vegetables can help you increase your intake of cancer-fighting lycopene. With 8,587 mcg of lycopene per cup, guavas are the official high-ringer – followed closely by tomatoes and watermelon. Papaya, red grapefruit and sweet red peppers are also good sources.
For maximum benefit, of course, choose organic produce.
(Note: if you prefer your tomatoes cooked, no worries: heating them does not detract from their antioxidant value and may even promote it – especially if you cook them (on a low heat) with a healthy fat like olive oil).
Interestingly, green, orange and yellow tomatoes were found in one analysis to be just as high in lycopene as their bright red counterparts. Just be sure to choose organic tomatoes and consume them with a fat-rich food for best absorption of the carotenoids.
(Tip: Try partnering fresh, ripe tomatoes with avocadoes in order to maximize the nutritional benefits of both foods).
Lycopene is available as a supplement, with natural healers typically advising dosages of 2 to 30 mg a day. As always, check with your integrative healthcare provider to see if lycopene supplementation is right for you.
Research into lycopene’s therapeutic effects is currently ongoing. But one thing seems clear: lycopene, a constituent of ordinary foods like tomatoes and red peppers, seems to have extraordinary powers when it comes to fighting cancer.
Sources for this article include:
Cancer & Heart Disease
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