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.


Coffee could boost IVF chances

A strong cup of coffee could help prevent a life-threatening complication of IVF according to a new study.

Around 5% to 10% of women undergoing IVF experience a condition known as ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS).

Caffeine could block adenosine – a chenical that increases the risk of OHSS.

Although the majority of OHSS cases are mild, with symptoms including abdominal bloating, nausea and weight gain, in its most serious form it can cause blood clotting disorders, kidney damage and chest pain.

Scientists from Middlesex University and Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry who analysed fluid around the human egg discovered surprisingly high levels of the chemical adenosine.

They believe OHSS is caused when IVF drug stimulation creates high levels of adenosine, causing the blood vessels to dilate and blood fluid to leak into tissue.

“It may be that a cup of strong coffee with every IVF cycle could reduce the chances of OHSS. Caffeine competes with adenosine for the same receptors, effectively blocking adenosine’s action, and it could therefore potentially treat the cause of this condition.” said Ray Iles, professor of biomedical science at Middlesex University.

Further research is under way at Barts and The London Centre for Reproductive Medicine.


Artificial Ovary Breakthrough

Using a 3-D petri dish, researchers at Brown University and Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island have built a completely functional artificial human ovary that will allow doctors to harvest immature human egg cells (oocytes) and grow them into mature, ready-to-be-fertilized human eggs outside the body. (In vitro) The advance could eventually help preserve fertility for women facing chemotherapy or other medical treatments that may be destructive to ovarian folliculogenesis.


Stress and Infertility

New research has highlighted the importance of stress in understanding infertility.

Studies have shown that stress can prevent pregnancy by increasing too many of the fight-or-flight hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, which can reduce sperm count and prevent ovulation. Stress hormones can interfere with these steps by preventing the actions of a key reproductive hormone known as gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH).

When GnRH is inhibited, it does not trigger the pituitary gland to produce and secrete other reproductive hormones.

New research from the University of California Berkeley is now showing that stress can also impact fertility by causing the increase of another reproductive hormone called Gonadotropin-Inhibitory Hormone (GnIH). This hormone further impedes procreation by preventing the GnRH hormone from being released.

“Stress had already been shown to affect all those other more traditional players in the sex hormone cascade but no one had looked at GnIH yet,” says Elizabeth Kirby, a member of the research team. “So, our research basically adds a new piece to the puzzle of sex and reproduction – a new hormone known to suppress reproduction is also now known to increase in response to stress.”

Ultimately, what this means is that stress works in more than just one way to impact fertility.


Lab Grown Human Eggs and Sperm

A major scientific breakthrough has been made in fertility treatment with the news that human eggs and sperm have been grown in the laboratory.

The annoucement could change the face of parenthood.

This scientific advance paves the way for a cure for infertility and could potentially help those left sterile by cancer treatment to have children who are biologically their own.

But the breakthrough does raise a number of moral and ethical concerns. These include the possibility of children being born through entirely artificial means, and men and women being sidelined from the process of making babies.

Opponents argue that it is wrong to meddle with the building blocks of life and warn that the advances taking place to tackle infertility risk distorting and damaging relations between family members.

The U.S. government-funded research centres on stem cells, widely seen as a repair kit for the body.

Scientists at Stanford University in California found the right cocktail of chemicals and vitamins to coax the cells into becoming eggs and sperm.

The sperm had heads and short tails and are thought to have been mature enough to fertilise an egg.

The eggs were at a much earlier stage but were still much more developed than any created so far by other scientists.

The double success, published in the journal Nature, raises the prospect of men and women one day ‘growing’ their own sperm and eggs for use in IVF treatments.

The American team used stem cells taken from embryos in the first days of life but
hope to repeat the process with slivers of skin.

The skin cells would first be exposed to a mixture which wound back their biological clocks to embryonic stem cell state, before being transformed into sperm or eggs.

Starting with a person’s own skin would also mean the lab-grown sperm or eggs would not be rejected by the body.

The science also raises the possibility of ‘male eggs’ made from men’s skin and ‘female sperm’ from women’s skin.

This would allow gay couples to have children genetically their own, although many scientists are sceptical about whether it is possible to create sperm from female cells, which lack the male Y chromosome.

The U.S. breakthrough could unlock many of the secrets of egg and sperm production, leading to new drug treatments for infertility.

Defects in sperm and egg development are the biggest cause of infertility but, because many of the key stages occur in the womb, scientists have struggled to study the process in detail.

Dr Allan Pacey, a Sheffield University expert in male fertility said:

‘Ultimately this may help us find a cure for male infertility. Not necessarily by making sperm in the laboratory, I personally think that is unlikely, but by identifying new targets for drugs or genes that may stimulate sperm production to occur naturally. This is a long way off, but it is a laudable dream.’


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