From anti-aging to cancer prevention antioxidants provide a range of benefits, but did you know they also affect male fertility? A study by the University of Rochester showed that men who ate antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables had a better rate of sperm movement, ejaculate volume, and sperm concentration than those who ate diets heavy in meat and full-fat dairy foods.
Free radicals are reactive molecules that can attack and change other substances in their surroundings and cause cell damage. A low level of free radicals is considered normal, however when they are in excess, they are known as Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS). In order for sperm to function normally, ROS must be inactivated by antioxidants.
Because sperm cell membranes are high in polyunsaturated fatty acids, they are sensitive to oxidative damage. An increased concentration of ROS not only damages the fatty tissue that forms the sperm membrane, it also reduces a sperm’s motility and ability to fuse with a female egg. ROS accounts for as much as 40% of male factor infertility.
Antioxidants to the Rescue
Although the body produces antioxidant compounds as a natural defense against free radicals, when there is an imbalance between the ROS and antioxidants in the body, this leads to Oxidative Stress (OS). Between 30 to 80 percent of male infertility is related to the damaging effects of oxidative stress on sperm.
Antioxidants break the oxidative chain reaction, thereby reducing the oxidative stress. The idea behind antioxidant supplements is to enhance the levels of antioxidants to the point where sperm are maximally protected and fertility potential is amplified.
Whether conceiving naturally, or through any number of assisted reproduction techniques, research shows that antioxidant supplements have a positive effect on healthy sperm. In a New Zealand study of 2,500 couples who were undergoing infertility treatments, including in vitro fertilization and sperm injections, men who took antioxidant supplements were four times more likely to get their partners pregnant than men who did not. Furthermore, researchers at The University of Western Australia and Monash University found that the men with normal semen ate significantly more carbohydrates, fiber, and antioxidants, specifically folates, vitamin C, and lycopene, than did the men with the lesser semen.
Semen already contains vitamins E, C and other antioxidants; however when the natural defenses weaken due to lifestyle factors, infection and disease, supplemental antioxidants can prove beneficial to sperm health. Antioxidants are especially recommended for men with impaired semen quality and evidence of elevated oxidative stress. Studies show the damage caused by OS can be remedied by the following supplemental antioxidants.
The most important mineral for male fertility, Zinc is found in high concentrations in male sex organs and sperm. Not only is Zinc required to make the outer membrane and tail of the sperm, it also ensures that the sperm properly matures. Zinc supplements have been shown to improve sperm count, motility, form, function, quality, and fertilizing capacity. Men need a minimum of 15 mg of zinc per day.
Vitamin C is an important anti-oxidant that helps prevent sperm defects and boosts sperm motility. Studies show that lower levels of vitamin C may lead to infertility and increased damage to the sperm’s genetic material. In one study, 30 infertile but otherwise healthy men who were given 1000 mg per day had a 140% increase in sperm count. Make sure to get 500-1,000 mg of Vitamin C daily, especially if you smoke which saps the antioxidants in your system.
A powerful antioxidant that improves sperm count, quality, and motility, Vitamin E not only helps keep the sperm membrane healthy, protecting the sperm from free-radical damage, it also improves the sperm’s overall ability to penetrate an egg. Studies show that IVF success rates are higher for couples in which the man takes vitamin E supplements. Men trying to conceive should take Vitamin E 400 IU from natural sources or supplements.
Most doctors agree that there is a positive correlation between taking supplemental antioxidants and an increase in male fertility, however they also point to other contributing factors. Lifestyle changes such as decreasing alcohol consumption, smoking cessation, exercising and stress reduction also contribute to male factor fertility.