A compound found in tomatoes could help tackle fertility problems in men by boosting the quality and health of their sperm. Scientists at the University of Sheffield in England found that lycopene, the pigment that makes tomatoes red, was associated with a considerable increase in healthy-shaped, fast-swimming sperm in healthy adult males. The results have been published in the European Journal of Nutrition.
The study was led by Allan Pacey, Professor of Andrology Reproduction and Head of the University of Sheffield’s Department of Oncology and Metabolism, and Dr. Liz Williams, a leading specialist in Human Nutrition at the University of Sheffield. The team also included researchers Madeleine Park, Aisling Robinson and Sophie Pitt. They set out to conduct the first ever double-blind randomized controlled trial to assess the impact of giving men lycopene.
The team recruited 60 healthy volunteers aged between 19 and 30 for the study. Since lycopene is poorly absorbed by the body, the scientists decided to use LactoLycopene, a commercial supplement created by Cambridge Nutraceuticals Ltd. During the 12-week trial, half of the participants took 14mg of LactoLycopene, while the other half took dummy pills. Since it was a double-blind randomized trial, neither the researchers nor the volunteers knew who was taking which pill.
The team analyzed the sperm samples collected at the beginning and end of the trial. Professor Pacey said, “We used a computer system to make these measurements, which takes a lot of the human error out of the results. Also, the person using the computer didn’t know who had taken LactoLycopene and who had taken the dummy pills either.” The team found that the men who took LactoLycopene saw a 40 percent increase in healthy-shaped, fast swimming sperm.
The study, which only involved healthy participants, now needs to be replicated with men with poor sperm quality. Dr. Williams said, “The next step is to repeat the exercise in men with fertility problems and see if LactoLycopene can increase sperm quality for those men and whether it helps couples conceive and avoid invasive fertility treatments.” The researchers are optimistic the new discovery could be beneficial for males with diagnosed infertility issues. It is estimated that around 45 percent of all infertility cases are due to “male factor” infertility.