|Researchers have identified that lycopene found in tomato can boost overall sperm quality. / Photo credit by Maksim Shebeko via 123rf|
Eating tomatoes can boost one's chances of being a dad, a new study says. A compound found in the fruit-slash-vegetable is believed to help in addressing fertility problems in men. The researchers say the discovery could not only help change the viewpoint for men with such problems but also lead to better interventions in lowering the negative impact of modern living on reproductive health.
The study identified lycopene as a booster to the overall sperm quality, showing improvements to their size, shape, and swimming capabilities. Lycopene is the pigment that gives tomatoes their red color.
The researchers from the University of Sheffield looked into the size, shape, and swimming capabilities of sperm samples collected from 60 healthy volunteers aged 19 to 30.
According to the Huffington Post, an American news and opinion site, the team put the volunteers under a 12-week trial where half took a 14mg supplement of LactoLycopene while the other half took placebo pills. LactoLycopene is a dietary supplement and the dosage given to the participants was equivalent to two tablespoons of concentrated tomato puree a day.
Being a double-blind randomized trial, neither the researchers nor the volunteers knew who were given the dietary supplement and who were taking the placebo.
Sperm samples from the participants were collected and analyzed at the beginning and at the end of the trial. The researchers used a computer system to measure the morphology—size and shape—of the sperm samples, taking out a lot of the human error in the end results. Their analysis led to unexpected findings that had lead author Allan Pacey nearly falling off his chair.
The team said those who took the LactoLycopene had nearly 40 percent more fast-swimming sperm, which also improved in terms of size and shape—an outcome Pacey described as "dramatic."
"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," he said. Their study was the first "properly designed and controlled" research of the effect of LactoLycopene on semen quality, "and it has spurred us to want to do more work with this molecule," the lead author added.
Co-author Liz Williams said while the results were "very encouraging," they would need to repeat the work to bigger trials.
"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," Williams said in a press release.
Infertility in men
Although their work has yet to study the mechanism for lycopene's beneficial action, Pacey said being a powerful antioxidant may explain how the compound was able to improve sperm morphology. He said lycopene is possibly curbing the damage due to the oxidation of sperm, which is known to cause male fertility problems.
Estimates show that infertility affects up to 16.7 percent of heterosexual couples in developed countries—with 50 percent of the cases being due to male sub-fertility, the study said. It added that male fertility problems often manifest themselves in low sperm count, poor swimming ability, sperm with poor size and shape, or a combination of all three.
Speaking with Healthline, an American health information provider, reproductive endocrinologist Aimee Eyvazzadeh said issues with male factor fertility are quite common and that as men (and women) get older, the higher the chances are that they will experience these problems.
Data from the US Department of Health and Human Services shows approximately 15 percent of couples are affected by infertility—that's nearly 50 million who will likely experience struggles conceiving when they start a family.
"One in 10 people need fertility help," Eyvazzadeh told Healthline. "About nine percent of men and about 11 percent of women of reproductive age in the United States have experienced fertility problems."
Discussions on male fertility issues
Even though male infertility is common, there aren't a lot of discussions about it—which the reproductive endocrinologist said may be due to gender stereotypes. There are also many reasons why people don't talk about the struggles of male fertility, which includes the media, family, cultural dynamics, and social pressures.
|It is also believed that lycopene can help in addressing fertility problems in men. / Photo credit by RossHelen via Shutterstock|
In fact, a survey from the Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine (CCRM) found that only 47 percent of men are willing to discuss infertility. But Eyvazzadeh believes there are improvements to this figure as "men are talking more and more."
"There are support groups popping up everywhere, and men are finally being included [in the conversation] and are joining in," she said.
For Jaime Knopman, a reproductive endocrinologist and director of fertility preservation for CCRM in New York, identifying male factor fertility issues is usually easier to remedy compared to female factor issues. She said this is due to the fact that there are millions of sperm in the ejaculate.
"IVF can be successful with very low numbers. We only need one sperm to fertilize an egg," Knopman explained, adding that the sperm can be injected into the egg even if it can't swim.