A compound found in tomatoes could help tackle fertility problems in men, scientists claim. A new study of a small cohort of men has found that the pigment which gives the fruit its red colour, known as lycopene, could boost sperm quality, specifically around size and swimming capabilities. The researchers say their findings could help reduce the need for invasive fertility treatments in the future as more than 40 per cent of all infertility cases are due to abnormal sperm production or function. For the study, the team from the University of Sheffield recruited 60 healthy volunteers aged between 19 and 30. During the 12-week trial, half of the participants took 14mg of LactoLycopene – a pill created by supplement manufacturer Cambridge Nutraceuticals Ltd that contains the tomato pigment – while the other half took placebos. The team analysed the sperm samples collected at the beginning and end of the trial. The results, published in the European Journal of Nutrition, showed that participants taking LactoLycopene had almost 40 per cent more fast-swimming sperm than when they began the trial, along with improvements to size and shape. Professor Allan Pacey, head of the University of Sheffield’s department of oncology and metabolism and lead author, said: “We didn’t really expect that at the end of the study there would be any difference in the sperm from men who took the tablet versus those who took the placebo. “When we decoded the results, I nearly fell off my chair. The improvement in morphology – the size and shape of the sperm – was dramatic.” Pacey added that he believes the anti-oxidant properties of lycopene could prevent sperm from becoming damaged.
The team say that the next stage is to repeat the exercise in men with fertility issues to see if the supplement can increase sperm quality and whether or not it can help couples conceive without invasive fertility treatments.
Prof Richard Sharpe, a professor at MRC Centre for Reproductive Health at the University of Edinburgh, called the study a “small ray of sunshine”.
“The findings could mean that consumption of this tomato extract compound might have a beneficial effect in men with infertility because of poor sperm motility and/or morphology,” Sharpe said.
Commenting on the research, Ying Cheong, professor of Reproductive Medicine at the University of Southampton, recommended that the team expand on their findings with a study that uses “live birth” as the end point.
“This study, undoubtedly, will add to our current knowledge of yet another anti-oxidant type supplement on sperm parameters, but what the study fails to tell us is if taking lactolycopene supplements improves fertility, that is the chance of actually having a successful pregnancy,” Cheong said.