Anti-oxidants such as pomegranate are often in the news for possible health benefits. Lycopene is another anti-oxidant known as a carotenoid, which is most often found in tomatoes and tomato-based products. Some older studies have identified decreased risks of various types of cancer (prostate, lung, stomach) with increased lycopene intake, while others did not show such a benefit. Recently, however, multiple studies show that there is a likely benefit to including lycopene in your diet: a decreased risk of prostate cancer.
Specifically, a Harvard and Ohio State University study noted that increased dietary lycopene intake is associated with decreased risk of prostate cancer (10-25% decreased risk), including lethal forms (highest intake group had 28% decreased compared to lowest lycopene intake) of prostate cancer in a recent study of nearly 50,000 male health professionals. Earlier and higher lycopene intake is associated with improved outcomes including decreased blood vessel (angiogenic) growth in tumors.
A systematic review from China in 2013 identified that the greatest raw tomato intake had a 19% decreased risk of prostate cancer vs. those with the lowest intake. Cooked tomato intake also had benefit with a 15% decreased risk.
Another recent study from 2014 from Italy indicated that low lycopene levels in the prostate are most frequently associated with prostate cancer. In this study, 32 men took 20-25 mg/day of lycopene for six months, and then had prostate biopsy. Prostatic lycopene level was significantly lower among men with prostate cancer than in men with prostatitis (inflammation) or HGPIN (which is a pre-cancerous prostatic tissue). Nearly 78% of the men with prostate cancer had a lycopene level <1 ng/mg, while only 6% of the HGPIN men and none of the men with prostatitis had such a low lycopene level in the prostate.
While increased lycopene consumption seems to be beneficial, additional study of prostatic levels and intake should be studied in a variety of populations to confirm these findings.