COLLEGE PARK, Md.–Lycopene seems to protect against cataract development through its antioxidant properties, according to in vitro and animal research published in the September issue of Nutrition (19, 9:794-9, 2003) (www.elsevier.com/locate/nut).
Researchers at the University of Maryland began their investigation by conducting in vitro studies with rat lenses. They added lycopene to the test samples for the test group and checked for various markers of potential eye damage or cataract formation after 24 hours. Lycopene was shown to significantly reduce the incidence of selenite cataracts, with only 9 percent of the eyes in the test group developing dense nuclear opacities compared to 83 percent in the control group.
In animal research, in vivo selenite cataracts were induced in nine-day-old rats, with rats in the treatment group also receiving lycopene injections four hours before the selenite challenge. Rats in the control group had a 25-percent decrease in glutathione levels and a 32-percent increase in malondialdehyde content compared to normal lenses. Lycopene was shown to significantly restore glutathione and malondialdehyde levels. Additionally, researchers saw a significant decrease in the activity of antioxidant enzymes in the control animals, while lycopene restored superoxide dismutase activity.
In another experiment, galactose cataracts were induced in rats that were fed a diet comprising 30-percent galactose and 400 mcg/kg of lycopene daily. Lycopene was shown to significantly delay galactose cataracts, with only 35 percent of the lycopene-fed animals developing mature cataracts compared to 100 percent of the control group.
Researchers concluded lycopene protected against experimental cataract through antioxidant properties, making it of potential use in preserving eye health by protecting against cataract formation.