Antioxidant supplements may be helpful for male sub-fertility

A recently published review paper (1) which assessed a number of published trials has found that antioxidant supplements may be of benefit to couples who have had difficulties conceiving naturally.  The review paper has found that the partners of men who take antioxidant supplements are more likely to become pregnant.

Male sub-fertility affects around one in 20 men.  Free radicals produced in the body (also known as reactive oxygen species) are known to cause damage to cells, and in particular sperm cells, which may result in lowered sperm counts and interfere with their ability to fertilise eggs.  Antioxidants, including certain vitamins and minerals, may help to reduce the damage caused by free radicals.

The review (1) focused on 34 trials involving 2,876 couples undergoing assisted reproductive techniques such as in vitro fertilisation and sperm injections. Most men in the trials had low sperm counts or low sperm motility.  Many types of antioxidants were investigated in the trials, for example vitamin E, L-carnitine, zinc and magnesium.

Compared to men not taking a supplement, a couple was more likely to have a pregnancy or live birth if the man took antioxidants.  “When trying to conceive as part of an assisted reproductive program, it may be advisable to encourage men to take oral antioxidant supplements to improve their partners’ chances of becoming pregnant,” said lead researcher Marian Showell, who works in Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of Auckland in Auckland, New Zealand (2). “However, these conclusions are currently based on limited evidence.”"We need more head-to-comparisons to understand whether any one antioxidant is performing better than any other,” (2)

More evidence is certainly needed before any firm conclusions can be made, however eating a healthy diet rich in fruit, vegetables and wholegrains will to provide the body with many antioxidant nutrients and could be useful to aid fertility.  I have previously written about diet quality, antioxidants and fertility here

Previous study authors have noted “that people who consume more fruits and vegetables are ingesting more antioxidants, and this is the important point“, “We saw that, among the couples with fertility problems coming to the clinic, the men with good semen quality ate more vegetables and fruit (more vitamins, folic acid and fibre and less proteins and fats) than those men with low seminal quality“.  “A healthy diet is not only a good way of avoiding illness, but could also have an impact on improving seminal quality.  What we still do not understand is the difference between taking these vitamins naturally and in the form of supplements(3).  If you decide you want to start taking an antioxidant supplement it is always best to check with your medical doctor first.

(1)Showell MG et al.  2011.  Antioxidants for male subfertility. Cochrane Database Syst Rev.  2011 Jan 19;1:CD007411. 

 (2)Press release.   Wiley-Blackwell (2011, January 19). Antioxidants may improve chances of conceiving in male subfertility. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 24, 2011, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2011/01/110118200813.htm

(3)  Mendiola et al. A low intake of antioxidant nutrients is associated with poor semen quality in patients attending fertility clinics. Fertility and Sterility, May 2009; DOI: 10.1016/j.fertnstert.2008.10.075 Quote from press release Plataforma SINC (2009, June 3). Semen Quality May Depend Upon Antioxidants In Man’s Diet. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 4, 2009, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/06/090602083727.htm

Written By Ani Kowal

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