Antioxidants Could Improve Male Fertility

Men who are struggling to make their partner pregnant could boost their chances by taking antioxidants, according to new research.

A study published this week in The Cochrane Library provides evidence from a small number of trials to suggest that the  partners of men who take antioxidants are more likely to become pregnant.

Freaky chemicals called reactive oxygen species (ROS) are believed 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.

The study believes antioxidants can help to reduce the damage caused by ROS. The review 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. The trials explored the use of many different types of oral antioxidants, including vitamin E, L-carnitine, zinc and magnesium.

Compared to controls, a couple was more likely to have a pregnancy or live birth if the man took antioxidants. However, these results are based on just 964 of the couples in the review for pregnancies and 214 couples for live births.

Other trials tested the effects of antioxidants on sperm motility and concentration and showed mostly positive effects, although study group sizes were small.

“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.

But please note that the conclusions are based on pretty limited evidence. There was not enough data comparing different antioxidants to reach any conclusions about the relative effectiveness of supplements.