Men taking antioxidant supplements to improve their fertility is a trend that is growing in close proportion to both the increasing prevalence of subfertility in couples trying to conceive, as well as the increasing awareness that male factors can be a significant problem during this potentially challenging phase in a couple’s relationship. It is well known now that male factors are the sole cause of infertility in 30% of couples who have difficulty conceiving, with another 20% attributable to both male and female factors.
The theory behind antioxidants
During its entire life-cycle, sperm are exposed to a biochemical soup that contains free-radicals or reactive oxygen species (ROS) in science-speak. While ROS play a critical role in the healthy functioning of sperm, when their concentration gets too high, oxidative stress occurs which can cause problems to their ability to swim properly (poor sperm motility), as well as damage their crucial DNA cargo.
While the body naturally tries to maintain the correct concentration of ROS through the production of antioxidants, if an imbalance has occurred, oral supplements can help get things back on track – or so the theory goes anyway.
What the science says about antioxidants
It’s almost impossible to find good quality information on antioxidants, with scientific studies often being quoted if and where they support the commercial interests of those that quote them. Since I can declare absolutely no conflicts of interest however, here is what the science really says about antioxidants: The probability of a couple having a live birth where the male is sub-fertile increases from 5%, where no antioxidant supplements are taken, to between 10-31% after treatment with oral antioxidants (Showell et al. 2014 ).
While it’s great news that antioxidants work, they’re only an effective solution for some men, with as few as 5%-16% of couples that give them a try getting a baby for their efforts. However it is likely that many more men will experience some improvements to their sperm quality which will surely help contribute to success when used in conjunction with other fertility treatments.
Which antioxidants to take
While the list of nutrients with scientific evidence supporting their potential efficacy is long and growing daily, the most well proven antioxidants that improve sperm quality are:
Get your sperm tested
If you’re interested in trying antioxidants to see if they help with your baby-making efforts, one of the best ways you can tell if they’re working for you or not is to get your sperm tested both beforehand, and after three months or more of treatment. If you see an improvement in that time, you know they’re right for you. Ironically however, if you’re fortunate enough to get pregnant before getting your second test done, then you’ll happily never know.