Lycopene is a red-colored member of the carotenoid family, a group of plant pigments that includes beta-carotene, lutein, alpha carotene, and hundreds of others. Lycopene is the most abundant carotenoid in the body and is among the most effective antioxidants of all the carotenoids.
Lycopene is found primarily in tomatoes. Smaller amounts are found in watermelon, pink grapefruit, and guava. Lycopene from food sources appears to be absorbed most efficiently when cooked with a small amount of oil; thus tomato sauces and other processed tomato products may be better sources than raw tomatoes.
Most of the benefits attributed to lycopene relate to its antioxidant properties. As an antioxidant, lycopene may be useful to organs and systems throughout the body. Research indicates that lycopene helps protect against oxidation of LDL cholesterol. Results from another study suggest lycopene consumption may also help enhance immune function.
The optimum intake of lycopene is currently unknown. Lycopene supplements are commonly taken in doses of 5 to 10 mg per day. Lycopene has no known toxicity and appears to be very safe at this dosage range.