Want to boost your chances of becoming a dad? Eat tomatoes, a new study suggests.
Scientists believe a compound found in the popular salad item could help tackle fertility problems in men.
Lycopene, a pigment in tomatoes that gives them their red colour, has been shown to boost overall sperm quality – with improvements to their size, shape and swimming capabilities.
Researchers say their findings could help reduce the need for invasive fertility treatments in the future, as more than 40% of all infertility cases are due to abnormal sperm production or function.
But critics point out that the study, which only involved healthy participants, does not show that lycopene improves fertility and needs to be replicated with men with poor sperm quality.
So, why tomatoes?
The team from the University of Sheffield recruited 60 healthy volunteers aged between 19 and 30. During the 12-week trial, half of the participants took a 14mg supplement of LactoLycopene – the equivalent of two tablespoons of (concentrated) tomato puree a day – and the other half took placebo pills.
It was a double-blind randomised trial, so neither the researchers nor the volunteers knew who was taking LactoLycopene and who was receiving the placebo.
The team analysed the sperm samples collected at the beginning and end of the trial. Those taking LactoLycopene had almost 40% more fast-swimming sperm with improvements to sperm size and shape, the researchers said.
Professor Allan Pacey, head of the University of Sheffield’s department of oncology and metabolism and lead author, said he “nearly fell off his chair” when they analysed the results.
“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,” he said.
Not a fan of tomatoes? Here are some other ways to boost the chances of conception.
Wear loose underwear
Sperm should be kept cool (the ideal temperature is 34.5°C) and wearing tight underwear is thought to increase testicle temperature by 1°C.
A 2018 study published on the Oxford University Press’ academic website found men who reported wearing loose boxers (rather than briefs) more frequently had a higher sperm concentration, higher sperm count and higher motile count.
If you work in a hot environment, another option could be to take regular breaks outside (or to an air conditioned area).
Ditch the cigarettes
Perhaps unsurprisingly, smoking cigarettes has been found to reduce fertility and men are advised to quit if they want to become a dad.
An analysis of multiple studies on smoking and male fertility concluded that “the majority of the evidence points to the fact that men with infertility, or those having difficulty conceiving, should quit smoking to optimise their chances for successful conception”.
Try out some moderate cardio
Exercise could improve the quality of men’s sperm. Specifically, moderate steady cardio, like jogging, could improve sperm’s speed, shape and volume, according to a study published in the journal Reproduction.
The six-month study of 261 previously sedentary men in Iran found that those who were randomly assigned to start exercising on a treadmill improved the quality of their sperm in terms of volume, sperm count, motility and morphology (shape and size).
Keep stress at bay
It’s easier said than done, but keeping calm is important if you want to improve your chances of conceiving. A 2009 study in America found men who had experienced two or more stressful life events in the space of a year had a lower percentage of sperm motility (the ability to move) compared with men who did not experience any stressful life events.