Page URL:

Antioxidants could help men with low sperm counts

24 January 2011
Appeared in BioNews 592

Couples struggling to conceive may be more likely to have a child if the man takes certain vitamins or other antioxidants, according to scientists.

The finding emerged from a review of 34 randomised controlled trials involving 2,876 couples who were having difficulty conceiving. Most of the men in the trials had low sperm cell counts or sperm which were poor swimmers. Male subfertility affects 1 in 12 men in the UK and between 30 percent (%) to 80% of cases are considered to be due to the damaging effects of highly reactive particles called free radicals, which circulate the body and can adversely affect the health of sperm. The damage can be reduced by the body's own antioxidant defences. These defences may be boosted by our diet or by taking supplements.

The trials assessed the potential benefits on fertility of many different types of oral antioxidants, including vitamin E, L-carnitine, zinc and magnesium. They compared the pregnancy and birth rates in couples when the man took one of these supplements compared to those that took no treatment or a placebo.

Most of the studies looked at the effect of antioxidants on the chances of pregnancy. On average, the chance of couples becoming pregnant increased from 3.1% to 11.8% when antioxidant treatment was taken. Three studies assessed how antioxidants affected the number of live births. The results revealed that antioxidants increased the likelihood from 2% to 8%. Both results were statistically significant.

Lead author of the study, Dr Marian Showell, who works in obstetrics and gynaecology at the University of Auckland, said: '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'.

The review emanates from 'The Cochrane Collaboration', considered to be the 'gold standard' in review and data analysis due to the thoroughness and stringency with which the available data is assessed. In the present analysis however, available studies were limited and showed great variability in outcome, making the conclusions tentative at this stage. Dr Showell acknowledged the need for more studies to confirm the apparent benefits of antioxidants.

Dr Allan Pacey, senior lecturer in andrology at the University of Sheffield described the research as 'encouraging' but added that: 'To date, the research has been controversial with some studies showing evidence of benefit and others showing no improvement. This meta analysis seems to suggest that there is an increased chance of pregnancy in the partners of men who took antioxidant therapy, although the numbers are still small. Clearly more research is needed'.

Next steps in the research are to identify any superiority of one anti-oxidant over another.

The data is published in The Cochrane Library.

Antioxidants for male subfertility
The Cochrane Library |  19 January 2011
Antioxidants may help men with fertility problems, study reveals
Guardian |  19 January 2011
Do antioxidants help male fertility?
NHS Choices |  20 January 2011
Male subfertility helped by antioxidants says research
BBC News |  19 January 2011
9 July 2018 - by Dr Marianne Kennedy and Shaoni Bhattacharya 
Eating nuts may significantly improve sperm quality and function in healthy men, suggests new research...
12 August 2013 - by Emma Stoye 
There is no evidence to suggest taking antioxidant supplements will help infertile women become pregnant, according a review of fertility clinic trials published in The Cochrane Library...
6 February 2012 - by Ruth Saunders 
Exposure to increased levels of vitamin D could boost your fertility, a recent study suggests. The findings may also explain why conception rates fall in the winter and peak in the summer in Northern European countries....
25 July 2011 - by Dr Kimberley Bryon-Dodd 
A team of international scientists has found a common genetic variant which may explain why some men with normal sperm counts and good quality sperm are affected by infertility....
11 July 2011 - by Dr Jay Stone 
Women with poor oral health take on average two months longer to conceive than those with healthy gums, Australian scientists have shown....
15 June 2009 - by Dr Sarah Spain 
A diet rich in steak and other red meat might hinder a man's chances of conceiving a child, say Spanish researchers. According to their study published in the journal 'Fertility and Sterility', a healthy antioxidant-rich diet might be the key to sperm quality and motility. Men who eat a lot of fruit and vegetables, in particular peppers, spinach and citrus fruits, have higher quality and faster swimming sperm....
16 February 2009 - by Misty Hatfield and Dr John MacMillan 
Dian Shepperson Mills' 'Commentary' in BioNews 493 (2/2/2009) 'Why fertility patients should consider what they eat before resorting to more invasive treatment' directs us to observational studies on the links between diet and (in)fertility as well as pregnancy outcomes. Since the original observations were made in the...
10 July 2000 - by BioNews 
Some unexplained miscarriages could be caused by a surge in oxygen levels around the third month of pregnancy. Researchers at University College London and Cambridge University have discovered that during this time, the level of oxygen in the placenta increases threefold. Combined with other factors, this sudden change may be...
to add a Comment.

By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions

Syndicate this story - click here to enquire about using this story.