Sheffield, South Yorkshire, England—A dietary compound found in tomatoes has been shown to improve sperm quality, according tonew research from the University of Sheffield.

Men taking a dietary supplement of LactoLycopene had almost 40% more fast-swimming sperm, with improvements to sperm size and shape. A press release on the topic suggests that this “new discovery could transform the outlook for men with fertility problems,” and “reduce the damaging impact of modern living on reproductive health”—out of all infertility cases, it says, approximately 40-50% are due to “male factor” infertility.

Lycopene can be found in several fruits and vegetables, but the main dietary source is from tomatoes. However, the press release notes, dietary lycopene is poorly absorbed by the human body, so the researcher team used commercially-available LactoLycopene, designed by FutureYou Cambridge to improve bioavailability.

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The randomized, double-blind trial involved 60 healthy volunteers aged 19 to 30. For 12 weeks, half to LactoLycopene supplements daily and the other half took placebo pills daily.  Sperm and blood samples were collected at the beginning and end of the trial.

Allan Pacey, Professor of Andrology Reproduction and co-leader of the trial, said in the release: “We didn’t really expect that at the end of the study there would be any difference in the sperm from men who took the tablet versus those who took the placebo. When we decoded the results, I nearly fell off my chair. The improvement in morphology—the size and shape of the sperm—was dramatic. We used a computer system to make these measurements, which takes a lot of the human error out of the results. This was the first properly designed and controlled study of the effect of LactoLycopene on semen quality, and it has spurred us to want to do more work with this molecule.”

Dr. Liz Williams, a leading specialist in Human Nutrition at the University of Sheffield and co-leader of the trial, said: “We were surprised by the improvement in sperm quality shown by the results. This was a small study and we do need to repeat the work in bigger trials, but the results are very encouraging. The next step is to repeat the exercise in men with fertility problems and see if LactoLycopene can increase sperm quality for those men and whether it helps couples conceive and avoid invasive fertility treatments.”

The release noted that one potential mechanism of action is lycopene’s powerful antioxidant effect.