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How Lycopene Protects the Heart

Studies show that lycopene helps reduce various cardiovascular disease risk factors. Greater lycopene intake is associated with 26% lower stroke risk and 37% lower mortality risk.

By Michael Downey.

Annual worldwide deaths from cardiovascular disease are expected to reach 23 million by 2030.1

Searching for ways to support cardiovascular health, scientists have accumulated compelling evidence about lycopene.1-3

Research shows that lycopene reduces a wide range of cardiovascular disease risk factors.

A review and meta-analysis found that people with the highest intake or blood levels of lycopene had a:4

  • 14% lower risk of cardiovascular disease,
  • 26% lower risk of stroke, and a
  • 37% lower risk of mortality.

This article describes underlying mechanisms behind lycopene's multi-faceted protective effects.

Lycopene and Heart Disease

Lycopene is a carotenoid pigment known for its potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. It is found in tomatoes, apricots, melons, papayas, grapes, peaches, watermelons, and cranberries.

Lycopene has long been known for its role in promoting prostate health. Now scientists have found that it may also reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.5

By working via several mechanisms, lycopene can mitigate factors that drive aging and chronic disorders, including cardiovascular disease.1,2

Lycopene’s Vascular Protective Properties

Cardiovascular disease is a multi-factorial process that includes high levels of oxidative stress and inflammation.1,6

Oxidative stress contributes to endothelial dysfunction and promotes inflammation within arteries that predispose to atherosclerosis.7

The resulting formation of atherosclerotic plaque can block blood flow or cause clots, triggering a heart attack or stroke.1

Chronically high levels of inflammation and oxidative stress are also believed, in certain circumstances, to contribute to cardiac hypertrophy, a thickening of the heart muscle that makes it more difficult for the heart to pump blood.1

Lycopene bolsters the body's innate cellular defense mechanisms. It boosts levels of glutathione, a potent antioxidant produced in the body, and regenerates other antioxidants, including vitamins E and C.1,8

In preclinical model, lycopene has also been shown to increase the activity of multiple enzymes that are critical components of our cellular free radical defenses.9-11

Through these mechanisms, lycopene may prevent the DNA damage that increases the risk of atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease.1,2,12,13

What You Need to Know

Cardioprotective Benefits of Lycopene

  • Lycopene is a carotenoid pigment commonly found in tomatoes and watermelon. It is well known for its anti-cancer effects.
  • Studies show that lycopene counters or prevents a wide range of cardiovascular disease risk factors, including atherosclerosis, oxidation of cholesterol, and endothelial dysfunction.
  • These cardioprotective effects are believed to be largely attributable to lycopene's anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity.
  • Review studies found an association between higher lycopene intake or blood levels and a 14%-17% lower risk of cardiovascular disease, 26% lower risk of stroke, and 37% lower risk of mortality.

Suppressing Inflammation

Harmful inflammation in tissues is considered a root cause of cardiovascular disease.

In cell and animal model studies, lycopene prevents and even reverses inflammation by inhibiting synthesis and release of multiple inflammatory cytokines (signaling proteins). It also inhibits nuclear factor-kappa B (NF-kB), the master regulator of inflammation.1,14-17

Various factors can cause heart cells to die off. Lycopene helps avoid this cell death. This suppresses harmful changes to the heart's size and shape after a heart attack c called ventricular remodeling.1,2

Lycopene may also improve endothelial function.1-3 The endothelium (the lining of blood vessels) is critical to healthy blood flow, nutrient exchange, and more.

Researchers hypothesize that the oxidation of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), which carries cholesterol into the bloodstream, plays a major role in the buildup of plaque that leads to occlusive heart attacks and strokes.1,6,18

Preclinical studies have shown that lycopene may slow the progression of atherosclerosis by inhibiting or preventing damaging oxidative processes (such as inhibition of LDL oxidation and proinflammatory activity).1,2

In animal studies, lycopene intake reduces total cholesterol, LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, VLDL cholesterol (another bad form that helps it build up in arteries), and triglycerides. It also increases beneficial HDL cholesterol.1

Hypertension (high blood pressure) increases risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.19 Lycopene delivers an antihypertensive effect by inhibiting the angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) - an enzyme that causes blood vessels to constrict.1

How Much Should You Take?

The typical daily dose of lycopene to support optimal health is 15 mg. Larger dosage of lycopene has been used in research.

Lycopene is considered safe and non-toxic, and consumption is usually without side effects.

No adverse effects have been reported in pregnant women consuming foods containing lycopene. However, anyone pregnant or breastfeeding should consult with a healthcare practitioner before starting to take lycopene.

What Human Studies Show

Several studies show cardiovascular benefits in people taking oral lycopene or pursuing a diet high in lycopene.

In a trial, male participants were randomized to receive 6 mg or 15 mg of lycopene or a placebo. After 8 weeks researchers observed significant improvement in endothelial function and a reduction in inflammatory markers in the 15 mg lycopene group, compared the low-dose or placebo arms of the study. There was also a beneficial increase in LDL particle size in the high dose group.20 (Smaller LDL particle size is more atherogenic than larger.)21

In a double blinded clinical trial, 36 statin-treated cardiovascular disease patients and an equal number of healthy volunteers were randomized in a 2:1 treatment allocation ratio to receive 7 mg lycopene or a placebo for 2 months. At the end of the trial a 53% improvement of vascular function (endothelium-dependent vasodilation) was observed in cardiovascular patients taking lycopene as compared to placebo. No changes were seen in healthy volunteers.22

A scientific literature review of human clinical trials found that people consuming foods high in lycopene were protected from lipid oxidation, DNA damage in cells, and other damage.23

Various studies demonstrate that lycopene and a lycopene-rich diet help protect against cardiovascular disease,4,24-29 and more.30,31

A review of 21 studies found that consuming tomato products (a rich source of lycopene) or lycopene supplements was associated with:25

  • Reductions in LDL cholesterol,
  • Improvements in blood vessel function, and
  • Lower systolic (top number) blood pressure.

One meta-analysis of 14 human studies showed that lycopene intake was associated with a 17% reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease.26

Another review and meta-analysis demonstrated that people with the highest serum concentration of lycopene had a:4

  • 26% lower risk of stroke,
  • 14% lower risk of cardiovascular disease, and a
  • 37% lower risk of mortality.

In a trial in heart failure patients with a reduced ejection fraction, subjects received either 25 mg of lycopene for 8 weeks or placebo. After two months, both triglyceride levels and flow mediated dilation of arteries improved significantly compared to the control.32

Together with its anti-cancer activity, these cardioprotective benefits make lycopene a powerful health-promoting nutrient.


Research shows that lycopene may inhibit many different cardiovascular disease risk factors, including atherosclerosis, endothelial dysfunction, and oxidation of cholesterol.

Scientists have found that greater lycopene intake or bodily levels lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease by 14%-17%4,26 and reduces stroke risk by 26%.4

If you have any questions on the scientific content of this article, please call a Life Extension® Wellness Specialist at 1-866-864-3027.


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