Lycopene and fertility
In recent years, researchers have become interested in the potential benefits of lycopene for male fertility. Found in fruits and vegetables, lycopene is a powerful antioxidant that could help to increase the percentage of high-quality sperm that a man produces.
Lycopene (from solanum lycopersicum, the binomial name of the tomato plant) is a bright red carotene and carotenoid pigment. Tomato products are the most common dietary source of lycopene, accounting for more than 80% of intake, although it is found in other fruits and vegetables that are also part of the healthy Mediterranean diet.
Antioxidants and sperm
Free radicals are highly reactive oxygen molecules that damage the function of healthy cells, including sperm cells.
Lycopene is known to have antioxidant properties, meaning that it bonds with free radicals – neutralizing them.
Male infertility is most often caused by poor sperm motility, quantity, and genetic quality. Men with a good percentage of high-quality, undamaged sperm are more likely to impregnate a partner. Any reduction in the number of these high-quality sperm – which can occur as a result of free radical damage to the DNA they contain – will significantly impact a man’s ability to reproduce.
As a powerful antioxidant, lycopene can reduce this free radical damage and have a beneficial effect on the chances for conception.
Since sperm production takes three months, elevated levels of lycopene in the blood must be maintained over time for a beneficial effect to occur.
Evidence for effectiveness
With male infertility on the rise, and oxidative stress a known cause of DNA damage to sperm, there has been much recent interest in the effects of lycopene. Multiple in vivo and in vitro studies have been performed that show the potential benefits.
A study by fertility specialists at the prestigious Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, USA, found that lycopene can boost sperm quality by 70 per cent.
Professor Alan Pacey – a leading expert on male fertility – and a team of researchers at the University of Sheffield are due to release the results of a three-month human study into the effects of lycopene on sperm quality. They are trying to establish the extent to which lycopene reduces DNA damage to sperm.
Lycopene and absorption
A supplement is only effective if the active ingredient can be absorbed by the body. A highly bioavailable supplement will therefore be more effective.
Whereas processing usually degrades the nutritional content of fruits and vegetables, it actually increases the amount of bioavailable lycopene, while absorption of lycopene by the intestines is also enhanced by cooking and the presence of fat or oil. A tomato extract supplement that has been formulated to take this into account will allow for significant absorption of beneficial lycopene.