Lycopene Overdose: The Side Effect of Eating Many Tomatoes

Aditi Shenai

May 9, 2022

Tomatoes are nutrient-rich and healthy. They are technically a fruit, ideal as an ingredient for curries, sauces, soups, and pasta. Although tomatoes offer various health benefits, eating them in excess can lead to some side effects. One of the common causes of tomato side effects is lycopene overdose, which can affect people who are otherwise perfectly healthy.

Lycopene is a dietary carotenoid present in tomato and tomato-based products. Several concerns evaluate whether lycopene in tomato products could have protective or beneficial health effects. One cup of fresh cherry tomatoes has 3834 micrograms of Lycopene, which is a lot. Hence, it is easy to have a lycopene overdose. As a result, going overboard in eating tomatoes can trigger detrimental side effects on health. 

Lycopene: An Overview

Lycopene is a naturally occurring chemical found in brightly coloured fruits and vegetables. According to recent studies, fruits and vegetables like tomatoes, watermelon, papaya, red bell pepper, and grapefruit contain this chemical in abundance. Lycopene is a carotenoid, a class of phytonutrients that include red, yellow, or fat-soluble pigments, which imparts the colour to the fruits and vegetables. Carotenoids offer many health benefits that help prevent diseases. However, of all the vegetables and fruits that we consume almost every day, tomatoes and its products have the highest lycopene, which is an area of concern.

Tomato products like tomato juice, ketchup, and pizza sauce provide the highest lycopene in an average diet. Lycopene is helpful as a food colouring and is allowed for usage in the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and the European Union. Besides dietary sources, lycopene is present in certain supplements or multi-ingredient formulas. Therefore, it is usually a part of every individual’s diet. Although it offers many health benefits, its excessive consumption or lycopene overdose can be hazardous. 

Foods Containing Lycopene

Besides tomatoes and tomato products that are significant sources of lycopene, other lycopene-rich foods and their lycopene content of 100 grams are:

  • Guava: 5.2 mg
  • Watermelon: 4.5 mg
  • Papaya: 1.8 mg
  • Pink grapefruit: 1.1 mg
  • Cooked sweet red peppers: 0.5 mg
  • Persimmon: 0.159 mg

Lycopene Overdose: The Most Significant Side Effect of Overeating Tomatoes

Tomatoes enhance your food’s flavour and make your skin smooth and soft. Tomatoes are a staple food across the globe. However, some people go overboard with tomato consumption, whether for the flavour or the health advantages. Food-based or tomato derived lycopene is generally risk-free. But, like any other food, excess consumption of foods rich in lycopene can lead to an overdose. Since tomatoes have the highest lycopene, the chances of lycopene overdose are higher. In addition, supplemented lycopene has significant drawbacks, especially when taken in large doses. Most people have no idea that doing so can have significant health consequences. 

Some side effects of lycopene overdose can have chronic effects on the body. For example, excessive lycopene due to tomato consumption can cause diarrhoea, nausea, stomach cramps, gas, and even vomiting. So, if you consume many tomato products, try cutting back on them to see if you notice a difference. However, in some cases, the side effects are due to the acidic nature of tomatoes rather than lycopene, causing stomach irritation. Furthermore, stomach ulcers can worsen from tomato-based foods. Also, those taking medication for low blood pressure should not take lycopene, as it could cause lower blood pressure. 

Other Side Effects of Overeating Tomatoes and Lycopene

Tomatoes are acidic, giving them a sour taste. As a result, consuming too much of them in large numbers might result in heartburn and acid reflux. In addition, tomatoes are rich in solanine, a kind of alkaloid. Solanine is responsible for calcium accumulation in the tissues, which leads to inflammation. It is a significant side effect that accompanies lycopene overdose. Other side effects of overeating tomatoes are:

1. Acidity

Tomatoes include malic and citric acids, which make your stomach too acidic. Due to the development of different gastric acids in the stomach, eating too many tomatoes can cause heartburn or acid reflux. Therefore, people who commonly experience stomach distress or have GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) symptoms should limit their tomato consumption.

2. Skin Discolorations

As strange as it may sound, eating too many tomatoes might harm your skin by causing Lycopenodermia, a condition in which high lycopene levels in the blood cause skin discolouration and a dull appearance. According to experts, a daily lycopene intake of 75mg is considered safe. 

3. Allergies

Histamine, a substance found in tomatoes, can cause allergic symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, skin rashes, and throat irritation shortly after eating. As a result, if you are allergic to it, avoid consuming it. Meanwhile, tomatoes can also cause allergic contact dermatitis. The skin becomes itchy and swollen just by touching the fruit case if you are allergic.

4. Joint Pain

Solanine, an alkaloid found in tomatoes, is responsible for joint swelling and pain. Tomatoes can also cause joint inflammation by increasing the risk of calcium build-up in the tissues. Therefore, reduce your tomato intake if you currently suffer from joint pain. 

5. Kidney Stones

Some chemicals in tomatoes are complex for digestive fluids to break down. As a result, calcium and oxalate can build up in the body, forming kidney stones.

6. Pregnancy-Related Issues

Supplemented lycopene intake with dietary lycopene during pregnancy is probably not safe. Some women eat more tomatoes, believing that lycopene can reduce the risk of preeclampsia. However, one study concludes that lycopene does not decrease the incidence of preeclampsia in high-risk women. Instead, it leads to an increased risk of premature deliveries. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough research on this subject. However, it is ideal for most pregnant women to avoid lycopene.

Lycopene: Is there a daily recommendation?

Besides dietary intake of lycopene from fruits like tomatoes, some people also take it as a supplement. A study states that lycopene intake range from tomatoes varies greatly depending upon the population. For example, the average daily lycopene intake is 4.9 mg/day in the Netherlands and 1.6 mg/day in Spain. However, there is currently no recommended daily intake for lycopene.

Getting at least 10 milligrams of lycopene per day appears helpful. Some reports suggest that recommended lycopene doses generally range from 2 to 30 mg per day for six months. You can get a day’s worth of lycopene from pink grapefruit, which has about 1 to 2 milligrams per serving.

Health Benefits of Lycopene

While getting lycopene through your food is the simplest way to get it, one needs to make sure you’re eating enough lycopene-rich fruits and vegetables to get the benefits. It has multiple benefits to offer. For example, lycopene supports many biological activities. Besides the food industry, medicine and cosmetics use lycopene sources. Here are some of the common benefits of lycopene.

1. Strong Antioxidant

According to many research experiments, lycopene is a natural antioxidant. Antioxidants help to protect your body from the harmful effects of free radicals. It can protect DNA, proteins, and lipids. When free radical levels exceed, oxidative stress occurs in the organism. Certain chronic diseases, including cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s, are connected to stress. In addition, lycopene can neutralise some reactive components like hydrogen peroxide and nitrogen dioxide.

2. Protects Against Cancer

Although recent studies have found links between lycopene and cancer protection, the subject requires more research. Lycopene’s antioxidant profile may aid in slowing cancer growth and increase the production of enzymes in the body that help break down cancer-causing chemicals. However, the role of lycopene in cancer prevention requires more concrete evidence. But epidemiological survey implies that lycopene protects individuals from prostate and colorectal cancers. In addition, by inhibiting the insulin-like growth factor 1 receptor (IGF-1R) pathway, lycopene has been identified as an essential molecule for inhibiting breast cancer cell proliferation.

3. Improves Heart Health 

Cardiovascular disorders are now one of the most common causes of death and morbidity. According to research published in the National Journal of Biotechnology, lycopene can lower LDL (bad) cholesterol while increasing HDL (good) cholesterol levels. Some experts also believe that having more lycopene in one’s tissues can lower the risk of heart attack, blocked or clogged arteries, low blood pressure, and other cardiovascular disorders. Lycopene also helps in reducing inflammation with the help of RBCs and macrophages. 

4. Improves Skin Health

Apart from cancer prevention, a study shows that dietary carotenoids like lycopene help protect skin from sunburn. It can even offer life-long protection against harmful UV radiation. In addition, you can improve the health of the skin’s collagen and prevent the formation of some fine wrinkles. Lycopene is beneficial to all skin types, but it is helpful to sensitive and aged skin. 

Furthermore, tomatoes are astringent and can help lessen the appearance of big pores. In addition, the antioxidant nature reduces redness and irritation caused by the body’s inflammatory process. According to several studies, those who ate tomato paste daily had up to 40% less ultraviolet (UV) skin damage from sunshine than those who did not.

5. Other Benefits 

Lycopene can aid in preventing strokes, particularly those caused by blood clots. Researchers believe this is because lycopene lowers cholesterol levels while also lowering inflammation, two characteristics that can lead to a stroke. Along with being cardioprotective, it is also a neuroprotective agent. Lycopene’s beneficial effects on neurodegenerative illnesses, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, have been confirmed in previous studies.

Other Potential Hazards

Lycopene increases the risk of bleeding due to drug interactions. For example, it might interact with aspirin, blood thinners, ibuprofen, naproxen, and antiplatelet medicines. Lycopene can also lead to stomach problems ranging from diarrhoea to even as common as vomiting.

“Too much of anything is bad,” as our elders frequently say, and tomatoes can be detrimental to your health if consumed in excess. Excessive consumption of tomatoes can cause various health problems, including digestive issues, kidney problems, and even body aches.

Many people consume lycopene pills, which are widely available worldwide. However, these can lead to health issues. Consult a nutritionist if you want to know how many tomatoes you should eat per day. It’s also essential to determine whether you’re intolerant to tomatoes or lycopene. Also, lycopene interacts with many cancer-fighting drugs and the antibiotics ciprofloxacin and olestra. So, consult your healthcare professional if you are on these medications.

The Bottom Line

Many studies have contributed to the result that lycopene is safe and valuable in many ways. However, due to inadequate data and research, one cannot jump to conclusions and ignore the potential hazards of its overdose. Hence, it is wise to contact your respective healthcare provider to check whether lycopene supplements are suitable or not. You should also be well aware of all the potential hazards it possesses and its benefits. 

While supplements have many benefits, you should not overlook the harmful effects. For example, lycopene-containing products are helpful for skin health, cancer, and blood pressure. But, excessive consumption of the same is lethal. Furthermore, if not utilised correctly, it can induce internal side effects. As a result, always seek medical advice before using it.

Frequently Asked Questions ( FAQs)

Q. What happens if you have Lycopene Overdose?

A. It can lead to a condition called lycopenemia (skin discolouration), or it can range to different anomalies ranging from stomach pain to kidney stones. It is subjective and can vary due to many unforeseen reasons. Mainly it causes acidity, allergies, drug interactions, and joint pain. 

Q. How much Lycopene is safe?

A. There are no recommended doses for the Lycopene, but on average, 8 to 10 mg of Lycopene is considered beneficial. In addition, to acquire the health benefits of Lycopene, eating at least five servings of deeply coloured red or pink fruits and vegetables each day is beneficial.

Q. Is Lycopene harmful to Kidneys?

A. Eating moderate amounts of Lycopene is not harmful to the kidney. Optimum levels of Lycopene can lower oxidative stress and inflammation in the kidney. There is no indication whether lycopene has caused any toxicity in kidneys. However, some reports say that lycopene-rich tomatoes contain oxalates, which are responsible for the formation of kidney stones. 

Q. Can eating too many tomatoes cause problems?

A. Eating too many tomatoes could lead to large amounts of Lycopene building up in your system. Although Lycopene isn’t harmful and is generally safe, excessive consumption can eventually cause skin discolouration, digestive troubles, body aches, and acid reflux. 

Q. What does Lycopene do for the body?

A. Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant with numerous health benefits such as sun protection, enhanced heart health, and a decreased risk of certain malignancies. Though it’s available as a supplement, lycopene-rich meals like tomatoes and other red or pink fruits may be the most effective way to get it. Therefore it is beneficial to the body. 

Q. Is Lycopene good for your prostate?

A. Lycopene has a chemoprotective effect against prostate cancer. Lycopene effectively inhibits the growth of normal human prostate epithelial cells. As a result, Lycopene shows a preventive and positive role in preventing prostate cancer. For prostate cancer prevention, eating 6 mg/day is beneficial. 

Q. Can Lycopene whiten skin?

A. For sun damage, excess pigmentation, or melasma, Lycopene is good because of its gentle lightning properties. In addition, Lycopene prevents the breakdown of collagen, one of the causes of wrinkles). Tomatoes boost face whitening since they contain a high level of antioxidants and vitamin C, a natural bleaching agent.

Q. Can Lycopene cause constipation?

A. For some people, consuming 30mg (or more) of lycopene could cause diarrhoea, indigestion, and bloating. However, constipation is rare.

Q. Can Lycopene lower blood pressure?

A. Lycopene is a cardioprotective compound. It protects the heart by moderately lowering blood pressure. Therefore, Lycopene Supplementation might significantly reduce systolic blood pressure. But it is not adequate for diastolic blood pressure in prehypertensive or hypertensive patients. 

Q. Do strawberries have Lycopene?

A. Lycopene is a brilliant red carotenoid hydrocarbon found in tomatoes and vegetables such as red carrots, watermelons, grapefruits, and papayas (from the neo-Latin Lycopersicum, the tomato species). Strawberries and cherries do not contain it.

About the Author

M.Sc in: Dietetics and Applied Nutrition from Manipal University. Worked: All over India and have been involved in helping set up nutrition departments in start ups. Interested in lifestyle based nutrition. Mantra: A healthy lifestyle isn't a choice to be made or discarded, it's a way of life!

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