By Enyeribe Ejiogu ([email protected]yahoo.com)
Visualise a whole-wheat toast sandwich spread with a very thin layer of mayonnaise, richly filled with several slices of fresh tomato, lettuce and sliced boiled egg albumin. Alternatively, imagine slices of boiled yam eaten with a generous amount of tomato and red onion egg sauce, washed down with a good cup of coffee or green tea with a dash of honey. What a way to start your day!
For one brief moment, allow yourself not to dismiss the above as another ajebo diet by a Lekki, Lagos resident. Focus on the topic of this Sunday sermon about tomato and other vegetables and fruits that have lycopene and very vital to boosting the immune system and maintaining good health, especially now that COVID-19 is still prowling all over the world. And concern and reservations about the “vaccine” is growing and deepening.
Lycopene is a plant nutrient with antioxidant properties. Occurring in a number of food sources, lycopene is the pigment that gives red and pink fruits, such as tomato, watermelon and pink grapefruit, their characteristic colour. Lycopene has been linked to health benefits ranging from heart health to protection against sunburns and certain types of cancers.
Strong antioxidant properties
As noted earlier, lycopene is an antioxidant in the carotenoid family. Antioxidants protect the body from damage caused by compounds known as free radicals. When free radical levels outnumber antioxidant levels, they can create oxidative stress in the body. This stress is linked to certain chronic diseases, such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease.
Research shows that lycopene’s antioxidant properties can help keep free radical levels in balance, protecting your body against some of these conditions. In addition, test-tube and animal studies show that lycopene may protect the body against damage monosodium glutamate (MSG) which is extensively used to make food seasonings in cube form which are very popular in Nigeria. No matter what the companies that produce and extensively promote these seasonings (either cubed or sold as white granules in small transparent sachets) may about MSG, there is still a question mark on it.
May protect against certain types of cancer
Lycopene’s strong antioxidant action may prevent or slow down the progression of some types of cancer. For instance, test-tube studies show that the nutrient may slow down the growth of breast and prostate cancers by limiting tumor growth. Animal studies further report that it may prevent the growth of cancer cells in the kidneys. In humans, observational studies link high intakes of carotenoids, including lycopene, to a 32–50 per cent lower risk of lung and prostate cancers.
A 23-year study in more than 46,000 men looked at the link between lycopene and prostate cancer in more detail. Men who consumed at least two servings of lycopene-rich tomato sauce per week were 30 per cent less likely to develop prostate cancer than those who ate less than one serving of tomato sauce per month.
However, a recent review of 26 studies found more moderate results. Researchers linked high lycopene intakes to a 9 per cent lower likelihood of developing prostate cancer. Daily intakes of 9–21 mg per day appeared most beneficial. In essence, diets rich in the antioxidant lycopene may help prevent the development of prostate cancer. It may also protect against cancers of the lungs, breasts and kidneys, but more human-based research is needed to confirm this.
May promote heart health
Lycopene may also help lower your risk of developing or prematurely dying from heart disease. That’s in part because it may reduce heart disease risk factors. More specifically, it may reduce free-radical damage, total and “bad” LDL cholesterol levels and increase “good” HDL cholesterol. High blood levels of lycopene may also add years to the lives of people with metabolic syndrome — a combination of health conditions that can lead to heart disease.
Over a 10-year period, researchers noted that individuals with metabolic disease who had the highest blood lycopene levels had up to a 39 per cent lower risk of dying prematurely.
In another 10-year study, diets rich in this nutrient were linked to a 17–26% lower risk of heart disease. A recent review further associated high blood levels of lycopene with a 31% lower risk of stroke.
Lycopene’s protective effects appear particularly beneficial to those with low blood antioxidant levels or high levels of oxidative stress. This includes older adults and people who smoke or have diabetes or heart disease.
Other potential benefits
Lycopene may also offer a range of other health benefits and these include:
May help eyesight: Lycopene may prevent or delay the formation of cataracts and reduce your risk of macular degeneration, which is the leading cause of blindness in older adults.
May reduce pain: Lycopene may help reduce neuropathic pain, a type of pain caused by nerve and tissue damage.
May protect the brain: Lycopene’s antioxidant properties may help prevent seizures and memory loss experienced in age-related diseases, such as Alzheimer’s.
May contribute to stronger bones: Lycopene’s antioxidant action may slow down the death of bone cells, reinforce bone architecture and help keep bones healthy and strong.
Top food sources of lycopene
All natural foods with a rich pink to red colour generally contain some lycopene. Tomatoes are the biggest food source, and the riper the tomato, the more lycopene it contains. But you can find this nutrient in an array of other foods as well. These include sun-dried tomato, tomato puree, watermelon, guava, pawpaw (papaya), among others. There is currently no recommended daily intake for lycopene. However, from the current studies, intakes between 8–21 mg per day appear to be most beneficial.
Though lycopene is present in many foods, it can also be taken in supplement form. However, ths should only be taken under medical advice. The reason is that lycopene supplement may interact with certain medications, including blood thinners and blood-pressure lowering medications.
Downside of lycopene
One small study found that taking 2 mg of lycopene supplement daily during pregnancy could increase the risk of preterm labour or having a low birth weight baby.
Based on research reports, it is to be noted that the beneficial effects of lycopene are stronger when eaten from foods rather than supplements.
• Adapted from Healthline