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Compound found in tomatoes can ‘boost sperm quality’

Scientists say lycopene – a pigment that gives tomatoes their red colour – could help tackle fertility problems in men.

(Andrew Matthews/PA)
(Andrew Matthews/PA)

By Nilima Marshall, PA Science Reporter

A compound found in tomatoes could help tackle fertility problems in men, scientists say.

A dietary supplement containing lycopene – a pigment that gives tomatoes their red colour – has been shown to boost overall sperm quality with improvements to their size and shape and swimming capabilities.

The researchers say their findings could help reduce the need for invasive fertility treatments in the future as more than 40% of all infertility cases are due to abnormal sperm production or function.

But experts point out that the study, which only involved healthy participants, does not show that lycopene improves fertility and needs to be replicated with men with poor sperm quality.

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 – created by supplement manufacturer Cambridge Nutraceuticals Ltd – and the other half took dummy pills.

As it was a double-blind randomised trial, neither the researchers nor the volunteers knew who was taking LactoLycopene and who was receiving the placebo.

The team analysed the sperm samples collected at the beginning and end of the trial.

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The researchers analysed sperm samples from 60 participants collected at the beginning and end of the 12-week trial (Lynne Cameron/PA)

Those taking LactoLycopene had almost 40% more fast-swimming sperm with improvements to sperm size and shape, the researchers said.

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.”

Study co-author Dr Liz Williams, a specialist in human nutrition at the University of Sheffield, said while she was “surprised” by the improvements in the sperm quality in the experiments, further research is needed with a larger study sample.

Dr Williams added: “This was a small study and we do need to repeat the work in bigger trials, but the results are very encouraging.

This was a small study and we do need to repeat the work in bigger trials, but the results are very encouraging Dr Liz Williams

“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.”

Prof Pacey said the work, published in the European Journal of Nutrition, did not investigate how lycopene helped boost overall sperm quality but believes the compound’s antioxidant properties could be preventing sperm from becoming damaged.

Commenting on the research, Sheena Lewis, emeritus professor of reproductive medicine at Queen’s University Belfast, who was not involved in the study, said: “This is a small study where the volunteers were healthy, not infertile, with sperm parameters close to normal.

“Hence it is difficult to extrapolate any lycopene benefits to infertile men with poor semen quality. There are no clinical outcomes to the study.”

Ying Cheong, professor of reproductive medicine at University of Southampton, said: “This study, undoubtedly, will add to our current knowledge of yet another antioxidant 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.

“It would be more impactful if the authors could use live birth as the end point.”

PA

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