Can Antioxidants Improve Male Infertility?

With nearly 30-40% of all fertility problems being attributed to male reproductive functioning, couples seeking remedies for the same are steadily rising in number. In the absence of any prominent health issues affecting fertility, oxidative stress is often found to be the cause of inadequate sperm performance. Sperm cells in the male body are constantly in contact with a subset of free-radical compounds, called reactive oxidative species (ROS). Low levels of ROS are crucial to the normal functioning and performance of sperm, while an increase in concentration can damage the tissue which forms the membrane of sperm cells, which then hampers its ability to fuse with the female egg, and reduces mobility to a great extent. Other effects include reduced acrosome reaction and decreased implantation rates in IVF procedures. Fluctuation in levels of ROS can happen as a result of specific or non-specific reactions with neighboring cellular components like DNA, proteins, or unsaturated lipids. If the ROS is able to alter sperm DNA, the passage of faulty paternal DNA would make successful conception unlikely and could lead to cases of miscarriage in case the conception is successful. The body secretes antioxidant compounds to combat the ROS levels, but when the equilibrium between the two tilts in the favour of the oxidants, it brings about what is called oxidative stress.

Given the simplicity of the way by which oxidative stress reduces fertility levels, an antioxidant treatment seems like the best option to go with. Antioxidants are essentially just vitamins, and are currently experiencing a surge in demand from men looking to improve their fertility levels. One of the biggest challenges faced while buying antioxidant medication is finding good quality products.

In basic terms, antioxidants are substances that characteristically destroy, scavenge and halt the production of ROS or at least halt the progress of its actions. Some major antioxidants are vitamin A, tocopherol or Vitamin E, Vitamin C, beta-carotene and trace minerals. Certain food supplements like, Zinc, arginine and vitamin B-12 are believed to result in increased sperm count and motility. Others, such as vitamin C, Coenzyme Q, vitamin E, and glutathione have been reported to be beneficial in the overall management of male infertility issues.

While most vendors have scientific studies backing their product claims, that does not mean they provide a definite cure. While the quality of available data on this particular topic is not yet vouched for, most scientific studies have come to a consensus that antioxidants do actually play a role in improving male fertility outcomes. Oral antioxidants are believed to improve the chances of a couple conceiving by 10-31%. Scientific studies have concluded that antioxidants have positive influences on sperm motility, sperm concentration, sperm morphology, and DNA damage.

Before choosing to go for an antioxidant treatment, it is important to determine whether the patient is best suited to this type of treatment as well. Certain lifestyle habits like alcohol and tobacco use, poor diet, physical inactivity, pollutant and chemical exposure, psychological stress, etc. can make one an unsuitable candidate for antioxidant treatment, in addition to more obvious factors such as age and pre-prescribed medication.

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