Did you know that 30% of infertility issues are attributed solely to male factors while another 20% are a result of both male and female factors? Studies have shown a steady increase in male infertility within the last 50 to 60 years and yet there is little explanation as to why. If a man has no other underlying health issues that are interfering with his fertility, the cause of his poor sperm performance may be oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is a common pathology seen in approximately 50% of all infertile men and is caused by several lifestyle factors.
WHAT IS OXIDATIVE STRESS?
Sperm cells are fragile and while they travel from the testes to their final destination, they are constantly exposed to free-radical compounds, known as reactive oxidative species (ROS). While ROS play a critical role in the normal functioning of sperm, disproportionate levels can negatively impact the quality of spermatozoa and impair their overall fertilizing capacity. First, they damage the sperm membrane, decreasing sperm motility and its ability to fuse with the egg and second, ROS can alter the sperm DNA, resulting in the passage of defective paternal DNA to the fetus.
WHICH FACTORS PUT YOU AT RISK FOR OXIDATIVE STRESS
The following factors are well known to strain your body’s natural antioxidant defenses:
- Exposure to pollutants and chemicals
- Psychological stress
- Alcohol and tobacco use
- Pharmaceutical medications
- Poor diet and physical inactivity
A SPERM OXIDATIVE STRESS TEST
Because ROS levels have a 40% elevation rate in sub-fertile men, men can have a sperm oxidative stress test done to see if they are a good candidate for antioxidant therapy. Approximately 45% of male factor infertility cases, the men were diagnosed with varicocele, cryptorchidism, testicular torsion or endocrine imbalance, all of which are associated with oxidative stress.
The Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) test is a relatively simple chemiluminescence test requiring a fresh semen sample produced by masturbation after 2 – 3 days sexual abstinence. Measurement of ROS is taken within 15 to 30 minutes of ejaculation. The result can be reported within 24 hours. The test can be requested alone or in conjunction with a semen analysis or any other test for male reproductive health.
ANTIOXIDANTS AS MALE FERTILITY SUPPLEMENTS
In 2014, a study at the University of Auckland, in New Zealand analyzed the results of 2,500 couples undergoing infertility and subfertility treatments, including in vitro fertilization and sperm injections. The analysis revealed that men taking antioxidant supplements were 4 times more likely to get their partners pregnant than men who did not take the oral antioxidants. In addition, the antioxidants were associated with more than a five-fold higher rate of live births a favorable effect was confirmed for the following antioxidants: vitamin E, vitamin C, selenium, CoQ10, N-acetyl-cysteine, L-carnitine, and zinc.
Given that there is little evidence of adverse effects from antioxidant supplements, the best way to find out if the antioxidants work is to try them. A man should have his sperm analyzed before taking the supplements and then again 3 months of treatment. If there is no improvement, then you should continue taking the antioxidants for an additional 3 months before moving on to other male infertility treatment options.
 “Antioxidants for male subfertility”, The Cochrane Collaboration. 2014.