Lycopene Health and Diesel Fumes

Many of us who drive diesel cars will be worried that we now know they are very damaging to our health due to the emission of nitrogen oxides – called NOx and especially nitrogen dioxide, NO2Road transport is responsible for about 50% of total emissions of NOx, which means that levels are highest close to busy roads and in urban areas. So those  who drive a diesel car or live in busy areas will be concerned about the damage to our health by diesel emissions.

Scientists have studied ways to capture the NO2 using catalysts. Unfortunately, such ‘catalysts’ get ‘poisoned’, and lose their ability to remove the NO2.

A different approach is to use our diet to ‘quench’ the NO2. Anti-oxidants have many health benefits for humans e.g. quenching damaging oxidising species such as NO2. So, dietary anti-oxidants can protect our cells from NO2. One of the best anti-oxidants is (tomato) lycopene and we have studied lycopene (from Lycoplus) to protect our cells from NO2 damage.

We exposed human blood cells to NO2 and studied the damage for people who had consumed lycopene (from Lycoplus) and from normal foods such as tomato soup and tomato juice. We also investigated any effect of vitamin C on the lycopene protection.

We used human lymphoid cells taken from donors who had either taken a dietary regime based on a high concentration of lycopene for 3 weeks and compared these to samples from donors who had avoided lycopene. We compared the number of cells damaged by NO2 with and without lycopene and vitamin C.  The ratio is called the Protection Factor – so a value of 1.0 for this factor would mean no protection. We were surprised that lycopene plus vitamin C (from Lycoplus capsules) increased the Protection Factor dramatically – to around 20 or more.

Our research showed tomato lycopene neutralises damaging free radicals including NO2. However, in removing the damaging free radical, NO2, the lycopene is oxidised and so can no longer protect us from NO2. But, the good news is that vitamin C can react with the oxidised lycopene and convert it back to normal lycopene which is then ‘active’ again – the tomato lycopene can now, once again, protect us by removing more damaging NO2.

In summary, our research shows that while lycopene, vitamin C and vitamin E each protect our cells against NO2 (typically by a factor of 2-3) the combination of vitamin C with lycopene gives a huge protection, over 20 times, against NO2.

Since the major damaging component of NOx from diesel exhausts is NO2 it is worth protecting ourselves from NO2 damage by eating 6-8 cooked tomatoes plus vitamin C per day.  Of course, a dietary supplement with a high lycopene content, such as Lycoplus, containing bio-available lycopene of about 8 cooked tomatoes content PLUS vitamin C is more convenient and cheaper!