Male infertility: the driver behind our team's new study
Commentary on a 12-week double-blind placebo-controlled trial to see if raising blood lycopene levels improves sperm quality - by Dr Elizabeth Williams, a senior lecturer in the Human Nutrition Unit, Department of Oncology & Metabolism at the University of Sheffield
Most young men are more than surprised when they are told that 25% of them will have poor sperm quality and that it is one of the major causes of infertility in couples.
These days young men are exposed to many factors that affect male fertility. This includes obesity, smoking, stress, alcohol abuse, environmental toxins, sexually transmitted diseases and many more factors that mean our body's ability to produce healthy sperm is impaired.
Britain is facing an epidemic of childlessness with one in six couples unable to conceive and men having poor-quality sperm causing over half of the problem.
That is why we decided to undertake what I feel is an important study which is being led by our own well-respected UK expert in fertility, Allan Pacey, Professor of Andrology in the Academic Unit of Reproductive and Developmental Medicine.
Following the findings of a previous study at Cleveland Clinic's Center for Reproductive Medicine in the USA, which indicated lycopene supplementation could raise sperm count by up to 70%, we decided to undertake our own lycopene study at the University of Sheffield.
There are a number of research papers that have also shown lycopene may slow the progression of cancer of the prostate, the gland that makes seminal fluid, so it is logical that lycopene may improve sperm quality.
Allan and I agreed that little work has been done in this area, but if lycopene has a beneficial effect on the prostate, it is reasonable to think it might also improve sperm function.
We have designed a double-blind placebo-controlled trial to investigate the effect of lycopene on sperm function. We are recruiting 60 healthy male students and university staff aged 18-30 to take part in the three-month study.
We are using an over-the-counter lactolycopene supplement, called XY Pro®, for the study because previous scientific papers showed its lycopene formulation is very readily absorbed.
Half of the study volunteers will take two 7 mg capsules per day of a lycopene supplement containing lactolycopene while the other half will take identical dummy capsules.
To avoid the risk of bias, neither the volunteers nor the researchers will know who has received the active capsules and who has received the dummy treatment, until the results are analysed. Volunteers will not be given any personal information about their sperm count or potential fertility.
There is enough evidence out there to suggest this study is worthwhile and I am cautiously optimistic. If it works in the volunteers we would then consider testing it in infertile patients.
Dr Liz Williams, BSc, PhD, RNutr is a Senior Lecturer in Human Nutrition within the Human Nutrition Unit in the Department of Oncology & Metabolism at the University of Sheffield. Her research focus is the role of diet in the prevention of chronic disease and in healthy ageing. She also has a particular interest in the impact of diet on fertility. Liz is a registered Nutritionist with has over 20 years of experience of conducting nutrition intervention trials and has been teaching nutrition to postgraduate students for 13 years.