Lycopene: The Biochemistry of the fight against Cancer
A well known fact about lycopene is its abilities to guard against cancer. But what is it which gives it such property. Let’s understand the biochemical breakup of lycopene to get a clearer picture.
Lycopene is a type of carotenoid and is responsible for giving color to many citrus foods. These include tomatoes, oranges and guavas among others. It is a phytochemical which is produced by plants through the process of synthesis. It is an unsaturated hydrocarbon and has the longest number of bonds; 13 in total out of which 11 are conjugated and the balance are unconjugated double bonds. Human beings are not able to produce lycopene in their body and hence always need to take it by consuming fruits/vegetables.
It is better to take fruit juice or paste as this increases the probability of the body absorbing lycopene. This is because lycopene in fruits is covered with fruit tissue which reduces the surface area and makes digestion difficult reducing total absorption. The temperature change in processing of the fruit also increases absorbing capacity of lycopene in the body. Intake of oil in the diet improves absorption of lycopene in the human body, as lycopene is fat soluble so human tissues with oil have more capability to absorb it.
Antioxidant properties of lycopene are well documented. It has both oxidative and non-oxidative properties that help in giving it properties of fighting cancer. Lycopene, due to lack of beta ionone ring structure cannot form vitamin A. It also inactivates free radicals; these free radicals have a special property of reacting with body cells. These free radicals in turn create cell damage especially radicals generated from oxygen which are most damaging. Effectiveness of lycopene as an antioxidant can be proved by comparing it with other antioxidants. It has twice the ability of beta carotene and ten times more than alpha tocopherol. It also reduces LDL oxidation and helps in reducing levels of blood cholesterol. Some more benefits of lycopene are reducing macular degenerative disease and cancers of lungs as well as cervix.
Lycopene’s presence in human plasma is much more than other types of carotenoid. This is a clear indication of its importance in the defense system of the human body. Level of lycopene in a person’s body is affected by one’s lifestyle. Lycopene has lipophilic nature which explains its concentration in very low density fractions of serum. But contrary to common belief level of lycopene in serum tissues is not directly proportional to fruit intake.
To summarize, consuming more processed fruits and sauces can help reduce the risk of cancer.