Greater Boston Urology Blog

Lycopene & Prostate Health: What You Need to Know

We're thrilled to offer patients nutrition counseling in our Dedham Care Center. For many urologic/urogynecologic conditions, dietary changes are often first-line treatments. Today, we invited our registered dietitian, Elle Wittneben, to answer questions about an appropriate topic for Men's Health Month: lycopene and prostate health.

What is lycopene?

Elle Wittneben: Lycopene is a naturally occurring antioxidant from the carotenoid family. Lycopene gives many fruits and vegetables their red, pink, orange, and yellow coloring.

What foods contain lycopene?

Elle Wittneben: Examples include tomatoes, red peppers, watermelon, pink grapefruit, papaya, asparagus, and yellow parsley. Most Americans get most of their lycopene intake from processed tomato products such as ketchup and pasta sauce. Currently there is no recommended daily allowance (RDA) for lycopene intake.

What health benefits do foods rich in lycopene provide?

Elle Wittneben: Foods that are rich in lycopene are also rich in other antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

Can lycopene improve a man’s prostate health and/or help them reduce their risk of prostate cancer?

Elle Wittneben: It has not been definitively proven that lycopene reduces risk of cancer, including prostate cancer. However, low intake of lycopene has been associated with prostate cancer as well as other cancers. Plus, in-vitro studies have found that lycopene may reduce risk of prostate cancer by impedance of cell proliferation, apoptosis, and reduction in damage to DNA.[1]

What if a man has prostate cancer? Can lycopene help at that point?

Elle Wittneben: There is not a conclusive yes or no to this question. Many in-vitro, human, and animal studies suggest that lycopene can decrease production of prostate cancer cells. In 27 clinical trials reviewed by M. Mirahmadi, et al. in 2020, supplementation of lycopene had positive effects on cancer markers in 25 (93%) of the studies.[2]

Should people only get lycopene from foods, or should people consider lycopene supplements at some point (especially if they don’t like foods containing lycopene)?

Elle Wittneben: There are many lycopene supplements available; however, their safety, purity, and efficacy are unknown. There are more benefits to consuming lycopene from whole foods than from a supplement. However, if you are unable to consume these foods for reasons other than their lycopene content, a lycopene supplement should be considered. Always discuss the addition of supplements with your doctor.

Is there anyone who shouldn’t increase their lycopene intake—or who should avoid lycopene altogether?

Elle Wittneben: People who are pregnant or breastfeeding may be advised not to take lycopene supplements. There are also reports of allergic reactions to lycopene, such as skin rashes. If you have a condition such as overactive bladder, interstitial cystitis, or reflux, consuming acidic foods, such as tomato products, may increase symptoms.

Can nutritional counseling help patients when it comes to adding lycopene to their diet?

Elle Wittneben: Absolutely. Dietitians are like walking food encyclopedias. After reviewing a patient’s diet history, I can quickly spot opportunities to increase lycopene intake by either addition or replacement of foods. I make sure to include the patient in these decisions and help build a diet that is both appealing and beneficial to their health.

Do you have any favorite lycopene dishes/recipes and/or easy ways for people to get more lycopene into their diets?

Elle Wittneben: Fresh tomatoes, watermelon, grapefruit, and papaya contain the largest amount of lycopene per 100 grams (2.99-3.58mg). Colorful vegetable salads and fruit salads are a nutritious way to increase your lycopene intake. Including a source of dietary fat with lycopene-containing foods may increase lycopene absorption. The highest concentration of lycopene is found in ketchup and tomato sauces. Tomato-based sauces can be used in place of higher-fat condiments, such as mayonnaise, ranch dressings, and alfredos. Be mindful of the sodium content when purchasing or making your tomato sauces.

Is there anything else people should know about lycopene?

Elle Wittneben: Additional possible benefits of lycopene include reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, increased sperm count and motility, and protection of skin from UV radiation.[3]

Thanks, Elle!

Are you interested in making dietary changes that could improve your urologic health? Make an appointment with Elle today.

[1] Mirahmadi, M., Azimi-Hashemi, S., Saburi, E., Kamali, H., Pishbin, M. and Hadizadeh, F., 2020. Potential inhibitory effect of lycopene on prostate cancer. Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy, 129, p.110459.
[2] Ibid
[3] Doyle, L., 2020. Lycopene: Implications for Human Health–A Review. Advances in Food Technology and Nutrition Sciences – Open Journal, 6(1), pp.1-12.

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