New study to measure effect of dietary supplement from tomatoes on men with fertility issues

Sperm quality in healthy men can be improved with a simple diet supplement containing lycopene, a compound found in cooked tomatoes, according to previous research by the University of Sheffield. Now the Sheffield scientists have teamed up with Jessop Fertility at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust to look at the effect of LactoLycopene on sperm quality in men attending fertility clinics.

This latest research could transform the outlook for men with fertility problems and lead to better ways to reduce the damaging impact of modern living on reproductive health. Of all infertility cases, approximately 50 per cent are due to ‘male factor’ infertility.

The double-blind randomised controlled trial to assess the impact of giving men a dietary compound called LactoLycopene, will be led by Allan Pacey, Professor of Andrology at the University of Sheffield and Dr Liz Williams, Senior Lecturer in Human Nutrition at the University of Sheffield. The team want to discover whether it’s possible to increase the proportion of healthy shaped sperm (sperm morphology) and boost ‘fast swimming’ sperm in men who have impaired testicular function.

Lycopene can be found in some fruits and vegetables, but the main source in the diet is from tomatoes. Lycopene is a pigment that gives tomatoes their red colour, but dietary lycopene is poorly absorbed by the human body, so the compound used for the trial is a commercially available formulation called LactoLycopene; designed by FutureYou Cambridge to improve bioavailability.

The 12-week pilot study designed by the team of researchers will involve 80 volunteers aged 18 to 50, recruited from Jessop Fertility, a leading fertility clinic based at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. Only men with a low motile sperm count will be offered the opportunity to enter the trial.

Half will take LactoLycopene supplements and the other half will take an identical placebo every day for 12 weeks. Neither the researchers nor the volunteers will know who is receiving the LactoLycopene treatment and who will be receiving the placebo. Sperm and blood samples will be collected at the beginning and end of the trial.

“With the encouraging results from LactoLycopene on semen quality after the first trial with healthy men, we were keen to do more work with this compound with those who experience fertility issues.” said Professor Allan Pacey, a world expert in male reproduction from the University of Sheffield.

“It’s currently estimated that impaired testicular function contributes to around 50% of all cases of heterosexual infertility. One key cause of poor sperm quality is an increase in oxidative stress and we want to see if LactoLycopene can increase sperm quality for those men and whether it can help couples avoid invasive fertility treatments.”

The research team will include four other researchers, three of which work at the Jessop Fertility Clinic, Dr Helen Clarke, Mr Jonathan Skull (clinical lead) and Lucy Wood. The fourth member is Dr Michael Carroll (Manchester Metropolitan University).

Mr Jonathan Skull, Clinical Head of Assisted Conception at Jessop Fertility and Consultant in Reproductive Medicine at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We know environmental factors are really important in male fertility and may affect the quality of men’s sperm, so it is really exciting to be working with the University of Sheffield on innovative research looking at whether this food supplement could help to improve men’s fertility.”

Professor Pacey said the work so far has not investigated the mechanism for lycopene’s beneficial action, but it is a known powerful antioxidant, so is potentially inhibiting the damage caused by oxidation of sperm which is a known cause of male fertility problems. He believes this antioxidant effect is key and is looking forward to seeing the results in sperm quality from the new trial.

Source: University of Sheffield

Published on May 13, 2023