Tomato love for male fertility

Making babies sounds like such a simple task. First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in the baby carriage, right? For the 1 in 8 couples struggling with infertility, they know how crazy-complex “making babies” can be.  A quick google search will display hundreds of fertility cures, from pills to potions to (in my opinion) bonkers lifestyle recommendations. 


I entered the world of reproductive nutrition with the ultimate goal of helping couples become pregnant in a safe and realistic way. Although conventional wisdom suggests that infertility is a female issue, the reality is that 40% of infertility cases are due to male-factor. The good news is that there are tons of research highlighting how certain changes in a man’s diet may enhance his fertility. Increasing antioxidant intake is usually a first line-of-defense, as this has been shown to help protect against oxidative stress and improve semen parameters (like sperm count or sperm motility depending on the specific antioxidant and study).


I am a “food-first” dietitian, meaning that I try to encourage consumption of certain foods instead of taking a fist-full of supplements. Yes, there are studies showing how antioxidant supplementation helps enhance male fertility, but when it comes to the antioxidant lycopene, taking in this antioxidant in food-form has shown some amazing results!


Lycopene is a plant nutrient found in many foods that are naturally red and pink (think tomatoes, salsa, tomato paste). It has antioxidant properties and has been specifically linked to improving male fertility parameters in some studies. 


Researchers wanted to learn whether there is a relationship between certain dietary antioxidants (not in supplement form) and semen quality. A study was conducted using 189 university-age American men. Specifically, they were investigating the dietary intake of Vitamins A, C, E and certain antioxidants like lycopene.


After a semen collection and analysis was conducted, certain correlations were found. Findings included a positive link between lycopene and sperm morphology (meaning men who ate more lycopene had better sperm shape and size). In this study, tomato soup, tomato juice, tomato-based salsa, ketchup and fresh tomatoes accounted for 98% of lycopene intake. 


Another study confirmed the effects of canned tomato juice consumption and its effect on male infertility. This study demonstrated a positive relationship between male consumption of tomato juice and sperm motility,or ability of the sperm to swim.  If a man has poor sperm motility, it means his sperm is not swimming properly. Studying men who have poor sperm motility, researchers provided men with either one daily can of tomato juice (with 30 mg lycopene), an antioxidant pill, or nothing (placebo) for 12 weeks. After 12 weeks of following these men, researchers confirmed that there was an improvement in sperm motility for those men who drank tomato juice every day. More amazingly, the antioxidant they provided did not have any effect2 It would be interesting to see a study comparing fertility parameters when men drink tomato juice consumption with a lycopene supplement. Maybe one day...