Special edition: Antioxidants and Carotenoids

A red revolution: As the science grows for lycopene, will the market follow?

By Nathan Gray

- Last updated on GMT

Red revolution: As science grows for lycopene, will the market follow?

Related tags Lycopene European food safety authority

Lycopene has a growing reputation among the carotenoids, but have we started to see a red revolution in the market? In this special edition article, NutrIngredients asks where the science and the market data stand on the tomato compound.

Carotenoids are a growing force in the global nutrition market .Yet, when it comes to lycopene, the powerful antioxidant has a very small slice of the global carotenoid pie. Indeed, despite research suggesting that it may be 'the most potent' of all the carotenoids when it comes to in vitro​ antioxidant power, lycopene has the smallest market share of all the carotenoids.

A healthy future?

According to data from Euromonitor the global market size for lycopene has doubled in the last five years, but against a background of surging growth in other carotenoids such a lutein (a seven fold growth) this is has done little to impact the compounds market share.

Recent research has linked lycopene with a whole host of beneficial health effects including impacting cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis, infertility, and skin damage.

With the science behind the benefits for the tomato compound growing at a rapid rate, will we begin to see a red revolution in the carotenoid market?

Hearty benefits

Given the potential properties of lycopene, substantial research has been devoted to a possible correlation between the carotenoid consumption and general health, with a host of data on various health conditions now coming to the fore – and heart health is top of the pile.

From slashing the risk of stroke by more than half​, cutting the risk of heart disease by improving the functioning of blood vessels​, and protecting against DNA damage​.

Additional data from the from the Framingham Offspring Study – an epidemiological analysis that indicates correlation and not causation – recently reported that increased intakes of lycopene are associated with a reduction in the incidence of cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease.

The study, published in the British Journal of Nutrition​, showed that people with high intakes of the tomato compound were linked to a 17 and 26% reduction in the incidence of cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease, respectively, when compared to those with lower intakes.

“The present study of lycopene and incident CVD adds to the accumulating evidence that lycopene is related to CVD risk,”​ wrote researchers led by Paul Jacques from the Jean Mayer US Department of Agriculture Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University.

Skin damage

Recent research has linked lycopene supplements to protection against UV sun damage and may help to battle skin ageing.

"One little pill is the equivalent of eating six to eight cooked tomatoes,”​ said Professor George Truscott from Keele University, UK – who led the research that also suggests lycopene achieves such an effect by blocking reactive oxygen species from helping to form wrinkle-causing chemicals.

"Unlike anti-wrinkle creams, the pills give you protection from the inside out,"​ said Truscott. "The lycopene builds up in your body and is stored in the fat layer of the skin.”

"The other effect that lycopene has on the skin is it interacts with melanin, which gives the pigmentation,”​ he added. “It gets the melanin to be produced for longer, so your tan lasts for longer."

Indeed, many researchers have previously suggested that lycopene has beneficial effects on the skin, including evidence of protection from UV-ray induced tissue damage​.

Health claim’s hurdles

Despite such accumulating evidence for the benefits of lycopene – the compound is yet to win authorisation for the use of an EFSA approved health claim.

Several applications for health claims have been submitted for consideration to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in recent years – however all have been returned with negative opinions.

Claims that have been so far rejected by EFSA include ones relating to skin health, sun tolerance, improving dry skin, prostate functionality, eye health, heart health, healthy ageing, protection from cellular ageing and strengthening the immune system.

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