‘Tomato pill’ gives hope to childless couples
Fresh natural product supercharges sperm by 70%, combats damaging effects of radiation
A nutrient found in a ‘tomato pill’ could supercharge sperm by up to 70 per cent and offer new hope to childless couples, scientists believe. The compound lycopene which gives tomatoes their red colour, is now the focus of a study at Sheffield University, United Kingdom (UK) to measure the boost to male fertility offered by an over-the-counter modified lycopene supplement known to double blood lycopene levels.
The Sheffield team led by Professor Allan Pacey, one of Britain’s leading experts on male infertility, is recruiting 60 healthy male students and university staff aged 18 to 30 to take part in the three-month study.
The study comes as Britain faces an epidemic of childlessness with one in six couples unable to conceive.Half of the problem is believed to be caused by men having poor quality sperm.
The first half of the group will receive twice-daily capsules of the over-the-counter supplement called XY Pro, and the other half will receive identical dummy capsules.
Also, a team of researchers has discovered that lycopene – the red pigment in tomatoes – is extremely successful at guarding against the harmful effects of radiation.
Dr. Ruth Edge from The University of Manchester, together with her colleagues Prof. George Truscott from Keele University and Professors Fritz Boehm & Christian Witt from Berlin, undertook a study of lycopene (one of the carotenoids – plant pigments found in many fruits and vegetables) and its effectiveness at protecting against radiation at the University of Manchester’s Dalton Cumbrian Facility, part of the Dalton Nuclear Institute.
Radiation therapy is used to treat a wide range of tumours, but until now, its side effects have constrained its effectiveness. Recently, there has been interest in the possible role of dietary carotenoids in limiting these effects. In addition, interest has grown in identifying dietary counter-measures against nuclear accidents.
The results of the study, published in FEBS Letters, have shown that lycopene is an effective carotenoid at offering protection from the damaging effects of gamma radiation, and that dietary intervention could be useful in efforts to defend people from these effects. A plentiful supply of tomatoes, cooked in oil, which helps the body to absorb carotenoids, would be an effective way of adding lycopene to diets. A major finding of the study is that such protective effects are reduced as the oxygen concentration is increased.
Dr. Ruth Edge, Experimental Officer and Laboratory Manager at the Dalton Cumbrian Facility, said: “We have shown that lycopene can protect human cells efficiently against gamma radiation at low, but not high oxygen concentrations, and we hope that this effect may allow for improvements in radiation cancer therapy if the oxygen concentration can be increased in solid tumours compared to the healthy surrounding tissue”.
Future studies will look at other dietary carotenoids, as well as mixtures, to determine whether there is also an oxygen effect and to try to increase any protection range observed with oxygen concentration. In addition, the team will also study the oxygen effect using other sources of radiation, such as proton and alpha particle beams from the Dalton Cumbrian Facility accelerator.
Pacey said: “Studies elsewhere in the world have shown that the antioxidant properties of lycopene seem to have a beneficial effect on sperm quality and we want to investigate this further.
“Production of sperm takes three months. “This study will tell us if lycopene improves the quality of sperm already in development by reducing DNA damage, and whether it produces an overall increase in the number of mature sperm.
“There is enough evidence out there to indicate this study is worth doing and I am cautiously optimistic.“If it works in the volunteers we would then consider testing it in infertile patients.”
A recently published study by fertility specialists at America’s prestigious Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, showed lycopene can boost sperm quality by 70 per cent.
Pacey says a number of other studies have also indicated that lycopene can slow down the progression of prostate cancer and the enlargement of the prostate that causes bladder problems in older men.
He added: “We know lycopene seems to have a beneficial effect on the health of the male reproductive system and I’m cautiously optimistic our trial will show a benefit for sperm production.
“If it is the next step will be to offer the treatment to men with fertility problems.”Professor Roger Kirby, a London specialist in men’s reproductive health, also says he has long recommended the use of lycopene.
He said: “I have been prescribing for it for many years, and I would welcome more trials to measure the benefit and prove how it works.” Nigel Iskander, spokesman for Cambridge Nutraceuticals, the Cambridge University spin off which manufactures XY Pro, under the brand, Future You Health, said the company is working with a number of other universities around the world to prove the value of lycopene supplementation.
He added: “We know this compound is very beneficial and we are anxious to garner as much scientific evidence as possible for its use.”
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