Can Tomato Puree Improve Male Fertility?
Tomatoes have had a good year in my field. This tasty little fruit-vegetable (yes, it’s both) has always been a workhorse dietary antioxidant. And when cooked into a sauce or paste, the all-star phytonutrients in tomatoes, including lycopene and Vitamins A and C, become even more concentrated.
But could eating tomatoes also improve reproductive health?
Try Sundried Tomatoes
Let’s focus on the carotenoid antioxidant that gives tomatoes their color: lycopene. Consistently voted a top-10 antioxidant in the nutrition world, lycopene has been lauded for its ability to slow or prevent the growth of prostate cancer and extend the lives of those with metabolic syndrome and heart disease. And in our research in the development of an ideal organic male prenatal supplement, lycopene consistently performed at the varsity level and easily earned its way onto the roster.
So, it did not surprise me at all when lycopene was recently shown to improve semen quality among healthy (not infertile!) men. This was in the rigorous setting of the grand poobah of all study designs: a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind study. Among healthy men given pureed lycopene and compared to others given placebo for 12 weeks, sperm motility improved, and sperm morphology or shape improved. Both of these semen analysis measures are considered critical for male fertility.
A Better Sperm
These study findings jibe with my medical beliefs. After years in the field, I’ve come to believe that a healthy antioxidant diet or supplement improves male fertility not by increasing production and improving sperm numbers but by enhancing sperm “quality.”
One measure of quality is motility, a characteristic of sperm that is critical for it to travel from the cervix, where it lands, to the egg some 8 inches — virtually an ocean — away. Any help sperm can get with this long, upstream swim would seem to confer a selective fertility advantage. And, at least in a dish, it’s pretty clear that the best-looking sperm do the best job of fertilizing eggs. So, lycopene may help men produce more reproductively “fit” sperm, which is certainly a desirable endpoint in a world in which fertility appears to be decreasing by the day.
Hats off to lycopene, my personal choice for antioxidant of the year.