According to new research published in the European Journal of Nutrition by the University of Sheffield, lycopene, a phytonutrient found in cooked tomatoes can improve sperm quality. This discovery could drastically renew couples’ outlook on their ability to conceive who have been struggling due to male factor infertility.
Infertility, as a medical condition, is clinically defined as the inability to achieve pregnancy after at least 12 months of regular unprotected sexual intercourse, and/or two or more failed pregnancies. For years across many cultures, the women were to blame for the inability to conceive; however, the realization that the health of the male counterpart contributes up to 50% of all cases. According to the National Institutes of Health, of all infertility cases, one-third are caused by male reproductive issues, and approximately 10-15% of men who are infertile have a complete lack of sperm.
There are multifactorial etiologies involved in the prevalence of male subfertility in the United States and around the world. Bio-psychosocial factors and epigenetics play a role in semen quality, which has become a global health concern affecting over 187 million couples (1 of every 6 couples) globally. Typical manifestations of male subfertility and infertility are suboptimal levels of sperm, sperm that cannot move or “swim” properly, or sperm with poor size and shape, and unfortunately, there aren’t many empirical treatments to improve semen quality, which is why the results from this novel study are exciting.
This double-blind randomized controlled trial is the first ever to evaluate the impact of dietary lycopene treatment on male sperm quality. Of the fifty-six young, healthy men who completed the intervention, those who received 14 mg of lactolycopene per day for 12 weeks showed significant improvements in sperm motility and morphology by 40% compared to placebo-controls. Because dietary lycopene is poorly absorbed, researchers in this study used the commercial LactoLycopene formula to improve lycopene’s bioavailability. The researchers of this study were astounded by the results, saying, “the improvement in morphology (the size and shape of the sperm), was dramatic.” The researchers used a computer system to measure the results removing much of the human error.
What is lycopene?
Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant that is most commonly found in tomato nutrition. The carotenoid, lycopene, is found in other fruits and vegetables such as watermelon, carrots, red cabbage, papaya, asparagus, and guava. Lycopene gives tomatoes its rich, red pigment. Oxidative stress is an important cause of male infertility and thus increasing antioxidant-rich phytonutrients (especially lycopene), either found in food or high-quality nutritional supplements, is a promising approach to improve male reproductive health. Lycopene is similar to beta-carotene in that it has shown to possess anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties, as well as protective effects against eye disease and cognitive decline. Unlike beta-carotene, lycopene has no toxic effects in cases of over-supplementation or overconsumption, hence supplementation is safe. In respect to male reproductive health, a systematic review in Nutrients published earlier this year found that tomato and lycopene treatment can down-regulate androgen metabolism and signaling in prostate cancer in cell culture and animal studies, suggesting its potent antioxidative and targeted role in male sex hormone health.
Along with taking supplemental lycopene and other well-researched antioxidants, there are other dietary and lifestyle factors to consider to enhance a healthy reproductive system function and semen quality for your patients. In a previous article, we discuss the important role of zinc intake as a major influencer on male fertility. Healthy men who maintain a healthy weight, avoid smoking (tobacco or cannabis), have balanced blood sugar levels, get adequate sleep, and avoid exposure to environmental toxins (e.g., endocrine disrupting xenobiotics) are more likely to have healthier sperm and a more robust reproductive system. An additional thing to consider is that the tomato crop is among the labeled “dirty dozen” in that it is highly susceptible to the common pesticides used, therefore, patients should choose organic versus conventional tomatoes.