Lycopene and beta-carotene are the most abundant carotenoids in human blood and tissues. Although lacking provitamin A activity, lycopene may be biologically active by contributing to the antioxidative defense system of the organism. We studied the uptake of lycopene from processed (boiled with 1% corn oil for 1 h) and unprocessed tomato juice in humans. Lycopene concentrations in human serum increased only when processed tomato juice was consumed. Lycopene uptake varied with individuals, but peak serum concentrations were always reached between 24 and 48 h. The carotenoid was eliminated from serum with a half-life of 2-3 d. The increase in peak serum concentrations was dose-dependent but not linear with the dose. Repeated doses led to a continual rise of lycopene in human serum. Of the different geometrical isomers (all-trans, 9-cis and 13-cis), the cis isomers seemed to be somewhat better absorbed than the all-trans form.