Written by Ben Bunting: BA(Hons), PGCert.
One way is to include or supplement your diet with antioxidants, such as lycopene.
In this article we shall cover the following:
- What is lycopene?
- Lycopene's role and infertility
- Lycopene absorption
- Lycopene dose for fertility
What is Lycopene?
Lycopene is a carotenoid pigment that gives tomatoes, watermelons, and pink grapefruit their red color. Lycopene is the most powerful natural antioxidant found in plants.
It has been shown to protect against heart disease and cancer. It is also found in the human retina, where it may protect against age-related macular degeneration.
Lycopene is also found in the human body, where it can be converted to vitamin A.
The most common sources of lycopene are tomatoes, watermelon, papaya, apricots, pink grapefruit, and guava.
The role of lycopene in male fertility has not been studied extensively.
However, there are some studies that show that lycopene may help improve sperm quality by reducing oxidative stress on sperm cells.
One such study was conducted on a group of men who were given either a placebo or lycopene supplement for six months.
The results showed that those who took the lycopene supplement had improved sperm motility.
What do we know about the Role of Lycopene and Fertility?
Lycopene has various benefits to optimize fertility as outlined by clinical studies. Here’s a few of them.
Some people may not associate erectile dysfunction or impotency with male infertility.
However, without an erection, sexual intercourse isn’t possible, and therefore other methods would have to be attempted to extract sperm and inseminate the female partner.
It is also worth bearing in mind that around 30 million men in the USA alone suffer from impotency, and it can become an issue for men as they age.
Obviously, this condition can then affect other parameters of a relationship or personal satisfaction.
A 2018 study published by the Frontiers in Pharmacology journal noted that lycopene acts as a vasodilator.
Not only can this help prevent cardiovascular disorders but also have a positive effect on endothelial function. Endothelium is the membrane which lines the inside of blood vessels.
Endothelial dysfunction is linked to erectile dysfunction.
This is because the smooth muscle of the corpus cavernosum cells that line the arterioles can’t relax, nor can the walls of the small arteries which an erection is dependant on.
As a result, a 2006 study found that erectile dysfunction was associated with impaired endothelial function.
Alternatively, you may suffer from a condition known as priapism. This is when the penis remains erect after sexual stimulation, or indeed without any stimulation at all.
This condition is painful and can cause damage to the penis if not treated and lead to erectile dysfunction. This can be caused by either high or low blood arterial flow.
The causes of priapism are numerous, but it is estimated that around 66% of cases are the result of drugs that are used to treat impotency and can affect up to 5.4 men per 100,000 per year.
However, a 2014 study using the rat model found that lycopene eliminated the effects of priapism which include oxidative and nitrosative damage of the cavernosal damage.
That said we must appreciate that other like-for-like studies is hard to come by, which probably warrants further investigation.
Does Lycopene Increase Testosterone?
A significant cause of male infertility is varicocele.
This is a condition whereby large veins in the scrotum increase the temperature around the testicles which can lead to reduced sperm motility and production.
Varicocele can also be responsible for a reduction in testosterone.
Research published in 2020 regarding the condition discovered that lycopene was an effective anti-inflammatory and antioxidant.
Treatment with lycopene increased both testis weight and testosterone levels, thus also improving fertility.
Does Lycopene Decrease Testosterone?
If you are suffering from infertility, hormonal dysfunction such as low testosterone can be a contributing factor.
However, on the flip side, a hormonal issue whereby there are too many androgens may place a person at a higher risk of prostate cancer.
In which case, lycopene may also be able to help by lowering androgen levels, and thus reducing the risk of prostate cancer as demonstrated by a 2-month study published in 2006.
This study showed that short-term oral supplementation of lycopene was able to reduce testosterone.
Lycopene Increases Sperm Count
There are quite a few resources available online which outline how effective lycopene is for reducing oxidative stress and in turn, improving sperm quality and quantity.
Furthermore, its effects aren’t just limited to men who are suffering from conditions (such as obesity for example), otherwise healthy men can also benefit.
An issue that we face is the body’s ability to absorb enough lycopene. Unfortunately, we only absorb around 10-30% of lycopene from foods. The rest is excreted.
Furthermore, other factors can influence the absorption rate, these can include:
Once absorbed, it is distributed around the body but mainly accumulates in the testes.
Dose for Male Infertility
There are various studies demonstrating positive outcomes for sperm health, and thus fertility whilst implementing different dosing strategies.
This 2019 study published in the European Journal of Nutrition saw that 14mg of lycopene daily for 3 months improved sperm motility and morphology in healthy men.
Another study published in 2014 demonstrated that pregnancy rates increased due to improved sperm parameters when 4-8mg of lycopene was supplemented daily from a duration of 3-12 months.
Sperm concentrations have improved by up to 70%, sperm motility increased by 54% and sperm morphology improved by 38% with 8mg of lycopene daily in a study published in 2001.
Gupta et al (2002) found that 2mg of lycopene administered orally twice daily for a duration of 3 months improved sperm parameters and resulted in an increase of pregnancies.
What does this look like in terms of food?
If you prefer not to use a supplement, you could eat foods that include a high concentration of lycopene such as tomato or watermelon.
In this case, 4-8mg of lycopene would be found in 150g of raw tomato or 80g or watermelon.
Lycopene is an effective antioxidant with anti-inflammatory capabilities. Its positive outcomes in various studies does suggest that it can be used as an effective therapy to treat male infertility and its associated conditions.
While a firm and standard dosing strategy isn’t clear-cut, supplementation from 2-14mg daily has shown to be beneficial, if the concentrated nature of supplements doesn’t suit, food sources such as tomato of watermelon can provide the requirements to enhance fertility.