Lutein, lycopene, and their oxidative metabolites in chemoprevention of cancer

J Cell Biochem Suppl. 1995:22:236-46. doi: 10.1002/jcb.240590830.


Numerous epidemiological studies have demonstrated that consuming large quantities of fruits and vegetables reduces the risk for several types of human cancers. Carotenoids are abundant in fruits and vegetables and have been extensively studied as cancer preventive agents. A proposed mechanism of action for the protective effect of carotenoids against cancer is based on their antioxidant capability. Recently, we have isolated and characterized 14 new carotenoids, including seven metabolites from the extracts of human serum/plasma. This brings the total number of identified blood carotenoids to 21. Lutein and lycopene, abundant in most fruits and vegetables as well as human serum, have been shown to possess strong antioxidant capability. Among the metabolites of lutein, four results from oxidation and two from non-enzymatic dehydration. The metabolite of lycopene has been identified as 5,6-dihydroxy-5,6-dihydrolycopene, which apparently results from oxidation of lycopene to an intermediate, lycopene epoxide. This intermediate may undergo metabolic reduction to form the lycopene metabolite. Although in vivo oxidation of lutein to its metabolites has been demonstrated based on data obtained from two human studies, in vivo oxidation of lycopene to its metabolite has not yet been established. Recent preliminary studies involving healthy subjects ingesting purified lutein and zeaxanthin (a dietary dihydroxycarotenoid isomeric to lutein) are presented. We propose a possible antioxidant mechanism of action for lutein and lycopene that leads to formation of the oxidation products of these promising chemopreventive agents.

MeSH terms

  • Anticarcinogenic Agents / metabolism
  • Anticarcinogenic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Carotenoids / analogs & derivatives
  • Carotenoids / blood
  • Carotenoids / metabolism
  • Carotenoids / therapeutic use*
  • Food Analysis
  • Fruit / chemistry*
  • Humans
  • Lutein / metabolism
  • Lutein / therapeutic use*
  • Lycopene
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Vegetables / chemistry*
  • Xanthophylls
  • Zeaxanthins
  • beta Carotene* / analogs & derivatives*


  • Anticarcinogenic Agents
  • Xanthophylls
  • Zeaxanthins
  • beta Carotene
  • Carotenoids
  • Lycopene
  • Lutein