When life gives you lemons

It has been used as a contraceptive and has even been hailed as a potential weapon against the spread of HIV but now scientists at fertility clinic Genea have discovered lemon juice could be a vital tool in the investigation of male factor infertility.

The spermicidal properties of lemon juice – or its active ingredient citric acid - have long been recognised, with the 18th-century adventurer and lover Casanova reportedly using half a lemon as a primitive cervical cap.

So, when scientists at Genea’s andrology lab were looking for a natural substance to aid the process of analysing the quantity of sperm, they launched a trial and began squeezing lemons.

The standard diluent used when carrying out a semen analysis is the chemical formaldehyde, which is commonly used in building materials and also as a preservative in mortuaries and medical laboratories.

But formaldehyde is also a carcinogen and researchers wanted to find a natural alternative that would be just as effective in immobilising sperm in a semen sample for examination under a microscope.

Male infertility is the underlying cause for around 40 per cent of couples who have problems conceiving. A basic semen analysis is a common investigation that involves checking for unusual amounts of debris, clumping of the sperm and for the presence of cells other than the sperm. The number, motility and shape of sperm are also determined.

The inspiration to try lemon juice came in part from the work of another Australian scientist, Prof Roger Short, who had investigated whether lemon juice could not only immobilize sperm, but might even be able to stop the spread of the HIV virus. Further research proved the HIV theory to be wrong.

But the scientists at the Genea andrology department set out to discover if lemon juice could be used to immobilise sperm in order for an analysis.

And this time the lemon juice theory held up to scrutiny.

After initial tests, rather than squeezing the juice, a commercially available alternative that is 99.9per cent lemon juice was used. The andrology team led by scientist Talar Badelian compared the results of 50 semen samples using both formaldehyde and lemon juice. The juice was found to be just as effective.

The results of the study will be shared at the Annual Scientific Meeting of the Fertility Society of Australia in Auckland next week (Oct 29- 31).*

The Genea andrology lab carry out about 6,000 semen analysis tests a year. Separate research also being presented at the FSA conference outlines a new robotic system for handling semen samples that has vastly improved the speed and accuracy of counting sperm at Genea.

“The Genea andrology team are focused on developing innovative technologies to overcome male infertility and ensure the best possible chance of our patients achieving a healthy birth,” Genea Scientific Director Steven McArthur said.

More on our fertility tests

Meline Walton
Media & Communications Manager
M +61 452 433 369
E meline.walton@genea.com.au