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Lycopene Helps Benign Prostate Hyperplasia (BPH)

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Lycopene is one of the most potent natural antioxidants. This plant-derived compound is not essential for humans but its health benefits are many. Lycopene has been shown to reduce the risks of certain cancers. It can definitely stop the enlargement of the prostate and prevent this condition from becoming prostate cancer. But how does lycopene work and how effective is it in the treatment of BPH? What other natural remedies can be combined with lycopene to treat BPH? Read on to find out.

What Is Lycopene?

Lycopene is a carotene, a plant pigment and a medicinal phytochemical commonly found in certain fruits and vegetables.

As a pigment, lycopene gives plants a characteristic red color. It is responsible for the colors of tomatoes, red pepper, red carrots, papaya, and watermelon. Other rich plant sources of lycopene include gac (contains 70 times the lycopene content of tomatoes but it is rare outside Southeast Asia), pink grapefruit, pink guava, rosehip, and wolfberry.

There are other red fruits and vegetables that do not necessarily contain lycopene. For example, cherries and strawberry do not contain lycopene. On the other hand, there are plants that are not red but contain lycopene. Asparagus is an example of such a non-red plant containing significant amounts of lycopene.

Besides plants, lycopene can also be found in certain algae and other organisms that rely on photosynthesis for metabolism.

Lycopene serves multiple purposes in biological organisms. It is the precursor of beta carotene, itself a precursor of vitamin A. It is also used to produce other carotenoid compounds that give plants colors such as yellow and orange.

Chemically, lycopene is a tetraterpene and the part of the molecule responsible for its deep red color is also the part of the molecule responsible for its antioxidant property.

Although it is not an essential nutrient for humans, lycopene is commonly found in the human diet.

It is extensively absorbed in the stomach, bound to lipoproteins, transported in the blood and then stored in the liver, testes and adrenal glands.

Because it is insoluble in water, lycopene can survive food preparation techniques. In fact, cooking and food processing of tomatoes increase lycopene content while diminishing vitamin C. Therefore, while one antioxidant is being lost during the cooking of tomatoes, another one is being concentrated.

Therefore, tomato paste contains four times as much lycopene as raw tomatoes. Other processed tomato products such as tomato sauce, juice, and soup, as well as ketchup, are also excellent sources of lycopene.

By preparing and serving these processed tomato products in oil-rich dishes, the absorption of lycopene can be greatly improved since it is fat-soluble.

Lycopene is safe and non-toxic, therefore, it is commercially used as a food coloring.

Even though lycopene is non-toxic, excessive intake of lycopene-rich foods can cause skin discoloration. In one case, both the skin and liver turned orange-yellow but this discoloration was reversed by temporarily avoiding lycopene sources.

Some people do develop allergic reactions or food intolerance to lycopene. These presentations usually involve gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, diarrhea, gas, cramps, vomiting, stomach ache and loss of appetite.

Lycopene As An Antioxidant

As a medicinal agent, lycopene is being investigated in the prevention and treatment of prostate cancer. Researchers believe that lycopene is responsible for the reduced risks of cancers associated with tomatoes.

Almost all the health benefits of lycopene are derived from its antioxidant effect.

As an antioxidant, lycopene is especially known to mop up reactive oxygen species. In this role, it is 100 times more potent than vitamin E (vitamin E itself is 125 times more potent than glutathione, one of the major antioxidants naturally produced in the body).

Even though it is not an essential nutrient, lycopene is rated as the most efficient antioxidant for removing free radicals and neutralizing reactive oxygen species.

It is especially effective for mopping up singlet oxygen radicals produced in the skin from exposure to ultraviolet light. Such singlet oxygen radicals are mostly responsible for wrinkles and other photodamage to the skin. Therefore, lycopene is a very effective anti-aging compound.

Once ingested, lycopene is not converted onwards to vitamin A in the body. This means that the bioavailable lycopene found in systemic circulation can totally act as an antioxidant instead of also serving as a precursor for vitamin A syntheses.

The Anti-Cancer Property of Lycopene

Different studies have confirmed the benefits of the antioxidant property of lycopene in the treatment of various disorders including cancers, diabetes, osteoporosis, cardiovascular diseases, and male infertility.

However, most of these studies focus on the anti-cancer benefits of lycopene.

From the body of available scientific studies done on the anti-cancer effects of lycopene, the most promising results were obtained for cancers of the lung, stomach, and prostate.

Because lycopene is the most common carotenoid in the plasma as well as in many tissues in the body, its wide distribution makes it an ideal drug candidate for treating diseases, such as cancers, that affect multiple organs.

For example, in lung tissues, lycopene can neutralize nitrous oxide (NO2) and prevent it from turning lymphocytes into cancerous cells. In the stomach, lycopene protects the cells there from oxidative damage caused by bacteria such as Helicobacter pylori.

Lycopene Can Also Help by:
Activating anti-cancer enzymes such as Phase II detoxification enzymes known to remove carcinogens from the body
Inhibiting the spread of cancer cells; actually, a study found out that lycopene can inhibit the proliferation of both cancer cells and normal fibroblast cells. However, these normal cells were less sensitive to lycopene, and therefore, the cancer cells were preferentially inhibited over time
Inhibiting runaway cell growth stimulated by insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1). IGF-1 is involved in the mammary and endometrial cancer cell growth, therefore, lycopene may suppress cancer of the breast and uterus

Other studies have also found specific anti-cancer benefits of lycopene in the treatment of colon and prostate cancers.

How Lycopene Can Relieve Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia

Benign prostatic hyperplasia is a benign overgrowth of prostate cells.

Normally, the prostate gland plays a major role in male fertility. It supplies the volume of the ejaculate in the form of fructose, as the energy source of sperm cells, and PSA (prostate-specific antigen), which give sperm its motility.

However, as men age, the cells of the prostate gradually become insensitive to the cellular signaling mechanism that regulates their population. In addition, these cells become less responsive to inducers of apoptosis. This means that the “programmed cell death” meant to reduce the number of prostate cells becomes a lot less effective.

The overall result of these dysfunctions is an overgrowth (hyperplasia) of prostate cells.

However, these are not the only factors that can cause benign prostatic hyperplasia. The disorder has been shown to have hormonal involvement.

Dihydrotestosterone or DHT, an androgenic metabolite of testosterone, can also induce rapid growth of prostate cells. In addition, insulin-like growth factors can also contribute to this disorder.

Since prostate hyperplasia involves an uncontrolled increase in the population of prostate cells, it may turn from benign to cancerous. Therefore, people living with benign prostatic hyperplasia have increased risks of prostate cancer.

Lycopene can help treat benign prostatic hyperplasia and prevent its progression to prostate cancer by the mechanisms listed above.

Its antioxidant effect can help protect prostate cells as well as the DNA from oxidative damage.

By mopping up reactive oxygen species, lycopene prevents damage to the tissues of the prostate gland as well as the mutation of the prostate cell line.

Lycopene can also induce the proteins regulating cell growth. Even though prostate cells become less responsive to these regulatory proteins with age, lycopene can increase the production of these proteins, and, therefore, improve the regulation of the cell growth cycle.

Lastly, lycopene can modulate insulin-like growth factors especially IGF-1. By so doing, it inhibits the accelerated cellular growth induced by these factors.

Studies on Lycopene and Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia

Lycopene and the Progression of BPH

A number of studies have been done to investigate the benefits of lycopene in the treatment of benign prostatic hyperplasia. While initial results show that lycopene can help prevent the progression of the disorder, not all studies have been positive. Even though more and larger studies are still required, there are enough well-designed positive studies to recommend lycopene in the treatment of this prostate disorder.

A 2008 study published in The Journal of Nutrition is the most quoted paper on the effect of lycopene on the progression of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH).

In this study, 40 patients suffering from BPH, without prostate cancer but with high risks of cancer, were recruited. Over the course of 6 months, each of the participants was given 15 mg/day of lycopene or placebo.

At the end of the 6 months, the result of the study showed that:

  • Plasma lycopene concentration was increased in the patients receiving lycopene but not in the placebo group
  • The serum levels of PSA (prostate-specific antigens) were reduced in the lycopene group but not in the placebo group
  • Ultrasonography and rectal examinations showed that the prostate glands of the patients in the placebo group grew larger but the prostate glands of the lycopene group were not enlarged

This study proves that lycopene can prevent BPH from progressing into prostate cancer.

A 2003 study published in the same journal investigated the effects of lycopene on normal prostate epithelial cells. This is important because most studies test whether lycopene can shrink the size of the prostate gland in BPH patients when the gland is already oversized.

For this study, the researchers administered up to 5 micromoles per liter of the synthetic lycopene product, all-E-lycopene, to identical, in vitro preparations of normal prostate epithelial cells.

The result of this study proved that lycopene can inhibit the growth of normal prostate cells. This inhibition involved the reduction of cyclin D1, a protein involved in the proliferation of prostate cells.

This study shows that lycopene inhibits the growth of prostate cells whether normal or cancerous and that it can be used to lower the risk of BPH long before the disorder develops.

Lycopene and Other Natural Remedies for Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia

A 2011 study published in The Journal of Urology investigated the benefits of treating BPH with a combination of saw palmetto, selenium, and lycopene.

These are the most commonly used natural remedies for treating prostatic growth. Different studies have established the efficacies of the herb, saw palmetto; the mineral, selenium; and the carotenoid, lycopene in inhibiting the proliferation of prostate epithelial cells.

The chief aim of this study was to determine if combining these 3 remedies produced better results than using only saw palmetto.

The researchers injected a group of rats with testosterone for 14 days to induce BPH. During this time, the rats were randomly injected with saw palmetto or a combination of lycopene, selenium and saw palmetto.

At the end of the study, the prostate glands of the rats were examined. The result of the study showed that the combination of lycopene, selenium and saw palmetto was more effective for reducing the weight of the prostate gland as well as for inhibiting hyperplasia of prostate cells than saw palmetto alone.

Lycopene and Prostate Cancer

A 2001 paper submitted to the publication, Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, investigated the notion that dietary intake of lycopene can reduce the risk of prostate cancer.

The researchers recruited 26 men who were just diagnosed with prostate cancer for the study. Then they randomly assigned these participants to receive either 15 mg of lycopene two times daily or no supplement for 3 weeks before they underwent surgical removal of their prostate glands.

The results of this study indicated that lycopene supplementation can decrease the growth of prostate tumors.

Another study published in the journal, Nutrition and Cancer, in 2007 also investigated the link between lycopene and PSA in men with high risks of prostate cancer.

For this study, 81 Tobago men with high risks of prostate cancer were recruited and given either a multivitamin supplement or a combination of lycopene and the supplement. The duration of the trial was 4 months.

The results showed that while lycopene levels increased in the participants who took it, the levels of PSA (prostate-specific antigens) fell in the first month of the trial but returned to normal levels by the 4th month.

This study demonstrates the lycopene does not affect serum PSA levels in the long-term and it does not prevent prostate cancer by lowering PSA levels as previously believed.

A second study published in the same journal in the same year investigated the benefits of combing lycopene and soy isoflavones in the treatment of prostate cancer. For this study, the researchers recruited 71 participants with prostate cancer. They were randomly assigned either lycopene alone or a combination of lycopene and isoflavones for 6 months.

The results showed that PSA levels did not decline in both groups. However, 95% of the lycopene group and 67% of the combination group experienced stable serum PSA levels.

This result indicates that lycopene may be more effective than soy isoflavones in the treatment of prostate cancer and that the two natural remedies may actually have negative interactions instead of a positive, greater, additive effect.





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