Mother’s Day can be a bittersweet occasion for couples trying unsuccessfully to conceive. While less than 1% of the male population suffers from fertility issues, it can be a heart wrenching challenge for the couples affected. Fortunately for these would-be fathers, new research suggests promise for dietary factors to increase fertility — focusing on a phytochemical found in many red fruits.

Czech researchers took 44 infertile men and increased their intake of the carotenoid antioxidant lycopene — derived in this case from tomato puree, but also bountiful in watermelon, guava and red grapefruit. After three months of supplemental lycopene, seven of the previously infertile men were able to impregnate their wives. These were spontaneous pregnancies, i.e., not using in vitro fertilization (IFV).  After IFV, the lycopene helped yield another 15 successful pregnancies. Researchers speculated that the fruit compound helped improve antioxidant values of sperm — as well as the relative concentration of healthy omega-3 fatty acids vs. omega 6.

By consuming whole foods versus supplements, one benefits from the many other symbiotic nutrients with which Mother Nature has endowed fruit and vegetables. So how much would you need to eat to consume the equivalent of the 20mg/day used in the study?

Foods How Much?
Fresh Tomatoes 4-5 large
Tomato Paste 4-1/2 tablespoons
Tomato Juice (canned) 1 cup
Watermelon 1-1/2 wedges

While more research is needed to confirm lycopene’s fertility effects, eating more of the foods above may confer other health benefits. British scientists found that  tomatoes reduced sunburn damage by 33%. Lycopene may also help reduce the risk of strokes, osteoporosis, heart disease and  prostate cancer. As for male fertility, other dietary factors which can improve conception odds include shifting more towards a flexitarian diet that includes fish (omega-3 fatty acids were found to increase sperm count in a basic study) and  plenty of fruit and vegetables, which supply the fiber, folate and vitamin C linked with higher sperm quality.  High meat and full-fat dairy consumption, by contrast, correlates with poor sperm quality. A plant-based diet makes it easier to maintain a healthy weight, which supports reproductive health in both men and women.

Published May 1, 2013