Updated 30 July 2013

Lycopene: powerful anti-cancer agent

Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant which gives tomatoes, watermelon and red grapefruit their red colour.


Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant, which research suggests is potentially an anti-cancer agent. It is related to vitamin A, and falls into the carotenoid group. It also gives tomatoes, watermelon and red grapefruit their red colour.

Researchers say that lycopene is two times as powerful as beta-carotene in the destruction of free radicals.

A growing body of evidence shows that lycopene can significantly reduce the risk of prostate cancer in men. Studies have shown that men who eat 10 or more servings of lycopene-rich foods per week have a 45% reduced risk of prostate cancer development.

Research has also suggested that lycopene could help prevent cancer of the pancreas, colon, rectum, esophagus, oral cavity, large bowel, ovaries, cervix and mouth. It's believed that lycopene "turns off" free radicals in the body that can cause cell damage and lead to cancer.

Lycopene may also play a role in preventing heart disease, and may protect the skin against sun damage. 

Which foods have lycopene?

Lycopene is found in high levels in tomatoes. Other sources include: papaya, pink grapefruit, watermelon, guavas, tomato-based pasta sauces, tomato juice, tomato-based pizzas, tomato soup and tomato sauce. Cooked tomato products provide a more accessible release of lycopene than raw tomatoes.

How much lycopene do you need?

 A daily intake of 3mg - 7mg of lycopene is recommended. This estimation is based on the consistency of 5-6 servings of fruits and vegetables.

- (Health24, updated October 2011)
Read more:

Lycopene protects the prostate
Tomatoes can lower your cholesterol


Read Health24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Live healthier

Mental health & your work »

How open are you about mental illness in the workplace?

Mental health in the workplace – what you can do to help

If you know that one of your colleagues suffers from a mental illness, would you be able to help them at work? Maligay Govender offers some helpful mental health "first aid" tips.

Sleep & You »

Sleep vs. no sleep Diagnosis of insomnia

6 things that are sabotaging your sleep

Kick these shut-eye killers to the kerb and make your whole life better – overnight.