Can extra tomato ketchup improve male fertility?

8 October 2019

Tomayto or Tomahto, the French called them pomme d’amour and it seems that the name love apple might be closer to the mark than first though. Newly published findings of a randomised double blind trial conducted by a member of our team has shown that a molecule abundant in tomatoes can enhance the quality of human sperm.

Lycopene can be found in some fruits and vegetables, but the main dietary source is from tomatoes. Lycopene is a carotenoid, like carrots, and the molecule gives tomatoes their red pigment.

The bad news is that lycopene is poorly absorbed by the human body, so eating lots of tomatoes won’t help much.

However, researchers at the University of Sheffield used a commercially available formulation called Lactolycopene which successfully overcame this problem by wrapping the lycopene in whey protein. This was much more readily absorbed by the body allowing the researchers to study its effects on sperm quality.

In a trial designed by nutritional expert Dr Liz Williams, 60 healthy men aged 19–30 were split into two groups. Half of them took LactoLycopene supplements and the rest took identical placebo (dummy pills) every day for 12 weeks. Importantly, neither the researchers nor the volunteers knew who was receiving the LactoLycopene treatment and who was receiving the placebo.

Sperm and blood samples were collected at the beginning and end of the trial.

After analysing the data, the trial showed that men who were given Lactolycopene significantly increased the proportion of fast swimming and normally shaped sperm, whereas those given the dummy pills did not. However, it was important to note that Lactolycopene did not change amount of sperm produced.

The next steps are to see if the same result would also been seen in men with fertility problems. It is also planned to better understand how Lactolycopene is beneficial to sperm.

One potential answer is due to its powerful antioxidant properties. This could limit the damage caused by oxidation in sperm, which is a known cause of male fertility problems. Professor Allan Pacey believes this antioxidant effect is key in producing the improvements in sperm quality seen in the trial, and is hoping to investigate this more.

So dosing yourself with tomatoes, or extra ketchup, is unlikely to be beneficial, but a Lactolycopene supplement may help some men. It is important to remember that men should seek medical advice and assessment for fertility issues.

A copy of the final paper is available online.