• Lycopene supplementation preserves bone mass and increases bone strength and density in a mouse model of osteoporosis
  • Supplementing osteoporotic mice with lycopene significantly reduces cellular senescence – a dysfunctional cellular state known to promote osteoporosis and aging itself

Cellular senescence stands as a critical hallmark of aging, driving the deterioration of several fundamental biological processes like DNA repair and energy metabolism. What’s more, senescence may promote the development of several debilitating age-related diseases, particularly osteoporosis – a degenerative bone disease characterized by reduced bone density and increased fragility.

Now, in a new study published in Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, Wang and colleagues from Xuzhou Medical University report that targeting cellular senescence with the potent antioxidant lycopene helps preserve bone mass, bone density, and strength in a mouse model of osteoporosis. What’s more, the study’s researchers demonstrate that treating osteoporotic mice with lycopene reduces cellular senescence and the activity of pro-inflammatory compounds (SASP) secreted by senescent cells in the bone that are known to create a toxic environment and exacerbate bone deterioration.

Lycopene Strengthens Weak Osteoporotic Bones

Given that osteoporosis compromises the structural integrity of bones, Wang and colleagues explored whether lycopene supplementation could mitigate bone loss and improve bone quality in osteoporotic conditions. The researchers supplemented osteoporotic mice with 50 mg/kg/day of lycopene for eight weeks and found that treatment significantly preserved bone mass. Furthermore, lycopene greatly enhanced bone strength, as indicated by the bones of treated mice withstanding higher maximum loads of weight. 

The researchers also utilized advanced imaging techniques to measure bone density and microarchitecture — the 3D structure of bone. Accordingly, the results indicated that osteoporotic mice receiving lycopene showed a significant increase in bone density compared to those that did not receive lycopene. Moreover, these mice exhibited improved bone microarchitecture, indicating a slowing of the bone deterioration typically seen in osteoporosis.

(Wang et al., 2023 | Molecular Nutrition & Food Research) Lycopene attenuates bone mineral density and bone strength losses. Left: Osteoporotic mice treated with lycopene (blue) exhibit greater bone mineral density than untreated mice (pink), indicating preserved bone weight and density. Right: The bones of lycopene-treated mice also withstand a higher maximum load, nearing the same levels as normal mice (green), suggesting enhanced bone strength. 

Lycopene Targets Cellular Senescence

Cellular senescence is a dysfunctional state where cells stop dividing and often begin to release harmful compounds, including inflammatory compounds known as the senescence-associated secretory phenotype (SASP), which contribute to tissue degeneration and aging. Wang and colleagues found that lycopene treatment significantly reduced the number of senescent cells in the bone tissue of osteoporotic mice, suggesting a potential mechanism by which lycopene exerts its beneficial effects. 

Additionally, the reduction in senescent cells was accompanied by a decrease in a pro-inflammatory SASP factor called IL-6, known to exacerbate bone loss and fragility. Taken together, the study’s findings suggest that lycopene helps slow the progression of osteoporosis by reducing cellular senescence and pro-inflammatory SASP factors. 

(Wang et al., 2023 | Molecular Nutrition & Food Research) Lycopene ameliorates senescence and the SASP. Left: Osteoporotic mice treated with lycopene (blue) exhibit fewer senescent cells (B-gal) than untreated mice (pink). (Right)  Treatment also reduced the activity of IL-6, a known SASP factor. 

Implications for Osteoporosis Treatment and Aging

Overall, the study’s findings highlight lycopene as a potential therapeutic for osteoporosis, a condition that currently affects millions worldwide. And while osteoporosis can potentially be combated by resistance exercise, lycopene’s ability to target cellular senescence, reduce inflammation, and improve bone quality presents a promising avenue for future treatments.

Moreover, the findings of this study significantly contribute to the broader understanding of aging and age-related diseases. By demonstrating the efficacy of a natural compound in reversing aspects of cellular aging, particularly in the context of targeting senescent cells, this research opens the door to exploring similar interventions that could potentially mitigate the effects of aging not only in bones but also in various organs and tissues. Furthermore, the presence of senescent cells in multiple organs suggests that lycopene’s positive impact may extend beyond bone health, offering potential anti-aging effects across different physiological systems.

Collectively, the study by Wang and colleagues offers valuable insights into the role of antioxidants like lycopene in combating age-related diseases, particularly osteoporosis. Their findings underscore the importance of targeting cellular mechanisms underlying aging, paving the way for innovative strategies to improve healthspan and quality of life in aging populations. 

It’s worth noting that medium-sized raw tomatoes contain approximately 4-10 mg of lycopene. So, one would have to consume around 20 tomatoes to acquire the same amount of lycopene as the mice used in this study. However, this may not be the most practical option for individuals. Fortunately, individuals have the option to directly supplement lycopene, which is readily available on the market. That being said, remember to always consult with your physician before incorporating any new supplements into your routine.