Lycopene Lowers Risks for Neurodegenerative Diseases

January 13, 2021

The red pigment in fruits and vegetables reveals varied benefits against several diseases.

Did you know that guava and tomato are just two of the lycopene-rich fruits and vegetables that can protect your brain and reduce your risks for cancer, heart disease, and bone fractures?

Lycopene is the pigment in red fruits and vegetables like pink guava and tomatoes. It is an important nutrient scientists are currently testing in the prevention and suppression of neurodegenerative diseases. Past research has shown lycopene to have antioxidant properties, which are effective in fighting other diseases such as cancer, precursors to heart diseases, and bone conditions.

Neurodegenerative Disease

Lycopene demonstrated antioxidant properties in protecting the neural system in vitro and the consumption of lycopene-rich fruits and vegetables is recommended as a preventive strategy for neurodegenerative diseases, according to a review and meta-analysis published in Atherosclerosis.

In addition to suppressing oxidative stress and inflammation in the brain, lycopene restores changes associated with neurodegenerative disorders, epileptic conditions, aging, brain hemorrhages, spinal cord injury, and neuropathy and prevents proteinopathies, neuroinflammation, apoptosis, cerebral edema, and synaptic dysfunction in the brain, according to a review published in Neurochemistry international.

Lycopene also ameliorated neuroinflammation, oxidative stress, amyloid genesis, and memory loss in an Alzheimer’s-induced mice model, through mediating cell signaling pathways (MAPKs, NFκB, and Nrf2) related to inflammation, and thus could be effective in preventing Alzheimer’s disease, found an animal study published in The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry.

In their in vitro study of mice, researchers found lycopene to be effective in reducing oxidative stress, which is considered a major cause of Alzheimer’s disease, by reducing cell apoptosis through activation of the PI3K/Akt pathway.

Researchers studied 6,958 participants aged older than 50 years to assess the impact of carotenoids on mortality risk from Alzheimer’s. High levels of lycopene, lutein, and zeaxanthin were found to lower the risk of Alzheimer’s mortality. In an Alzheimer’s-induced mice study, oxidative stress biomarkers were measured with two treatments—lycopene and lycopene combined with vitamin E.

The combination was synergistic in significantly decreasing memory impairments and improved three oxidative stress markers for Alzheimer’s. In a rat study, researchers demonstrated that lycopene, a natural carotenoid, lowered aluminum-induced hippocampal lesions by inhibiting oxidative stress-mediated inflammation and apoptosis in the brain.

Similarly, lycopene was found to be very effective against age-induced cognitive impairment, memory loss, and cognitive defects while reversing age-associated neuronal damage and synaptic dysfunction in brain synapses by mitigating oxidative stress and inflammation markers in a mouse model.

Cancer Risk

Twenty-six studies of 563,299 participants with 17,517 documented cases of prostate cancer were meta-analyzed, showing that higher lycopene intake (between 9 milligrams (mg) and 21 mg per day) reduced the incidence of prostate cancer.  The prostate cancer risk declined 18 percent with increasing consumption of lycopene (intake of tomatoes and watermelon) in a study of 404 participants.

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