Could eating tomatoes—or taking a "tomato pill"—boost a man's sperm count and quality? That's what scientists at England's University of Sheffield are trying to find out. If so, it could become a potential treatment for male fertility issues.
Why tomatoes? Previous studies have shown that lycopene, the red pigment found in the sun-ripened little guys, can boost sperm count by up to 70 percent. Now researchers want to find out if raising lycopene levels actually improves sperm quality.
"Studies elsewhere in the world have shown that the antioxidant properties of lycopene seem to have a beneficial effect on sperm quality and we want to investigate this further," said lead reseacrher Allan Pacey, professor of andrology at the University of Sheffield in South Yorkshire. "This study will tell us if lycopene improves the quality of sperm already in development by reducing DNA damage, and whether it produces an overall increase in the number of mature sperm produced overall."
The study will involve 60 male volunteers between the ages of 18 and 30. Half will take two capsules of a lycopene supplement called XY Pro—chosen because its lycopene formulation is easily absorbed—every day. The others will take a placebo. And neither the volunteers nor the researchers will know who received what.
The men will also provide three sperm and blood samples to check lycopene levels—taken at the beginning of the study, six weeks in, and then at the end of the 12 weeks—in order to see if some of them absorb lycopene better than others.
"There is enough evidence out there to indicate this study is worth doing and I am cautiously optimistic," Pacey said. "If it works in the volunteers we would then consider testing it in infertile patients."
For couples struggling with male infertility, this could be an amazing discovery. Stay tuned!