Lycopene is a carotenoid that gives certain fruits and vegetables their red color.  It is found in watermelon, red cabbage, red/pink grapefruit and especially tomatoes, and is thought to display strong antioxidant activity in the body.  Past evidence suggests that this compound may work effectively against conditions such as arthrosclerosis, cancer and infertility.   New study results gathered by researchers at Yonsei University in South Korea show that lycopene may also have heart health benefits.

The researchers recruited 126 healthy men in similar age range and with similar body mass indexes (BMI) to receive daily servings of 6 or 15 milligrams of a lycopene supplement or placebo for eight weeks.  The results, which were published in the journal Arthrosclerosis stated, “Subjects supplemented with 15-mg lycopene daily for 8 weeks showed reduction in [some] cardiovascular risk factors, for example, an increase in LDL particle size.”  The results showed those men receiving 15 milligrams of the lycopene supplement to have a 57 percent decrease in C-reactive protein (CRP), which is “a marker of inflammation and is reported to be an independent predictor of cardiovascular-related events.” The same group also showed an increase in activity of super oxide dismutase (SOD), a powerful antioxidant enzyme, along with a decrease in DNA damage in white blood cells.

The group that received the lesser dosage of lycopene did not experience any decrease in CRP levels, however; those subjects did experience an increase in SOD activity, though lower than the group that received 15 milligrams.  The group that received the placebo experienced a decline in SOD activity and no significant change in levels of CRP or DNA damage in white blood cells.  Thus, the men who received the higher dosages of lycopene supplements experienced the most heart health benefits, followed by the group that received the lower dosage.  The group that did not receive the lycopene supplement did not experience any of the same health benefits as those who did. The results may have shed light on heart health benefits of lycopene-rich foods such as tomatoes and pink grapefruits.