Around 8 million people around the world have infertility problems. Delayed conception affects about 15% of all couples trying to get pregnant. However, slight/moderate male factors that produce sub-fertility in couples are estimated to represent about 50% of all cases. Tremellen confirms that 1 in 20 men will be sub-fertile (Tremellen, 2008).

Between 30% and 80% of this male sub-fertility is caused by oxidative stress on sperm cells. Oxidative stress occurs when the reactive oxygen species (ROS) are imposed on the natural antioxidant defences present in the semen sample and cause damage to the reproductive cells. The increased level of ROS may be due to various environmental factors (high temperatures, electromagnetic radiation, pesticides or pollution), lifestyle (alcohol consumption, tobacco, stress, obesity, poor diet), or other factors including infections, autoimmune and chronic diseases.

Antioxidants naturally found in semen include vitamins C and E, superoxide dismutase, glutathione and thioredoxin. These antioxidants help eliminate ROS and balance out the cellular state. However, it has been found that sub-fertile men have less concentration of antioxidants in their semen than fertile men (Tremellen, 2007). Therefore, it is evident that dietary supplements with antioxidants could reduce oxidative stress, improve semen quality and solve reproductive disorders.

This subject has recently been reviewed and published by Showell and partners in the prestigious journal “The Cochrane Library” (2011). Thirty-four studies were analised, with a total of 2876 couples that had or not taken oral antioxidant dietary supplements prior to undergoing assisted reproduction techniques (ART). The results showed that using antioxidants in the male diet was significantly associated with an increased live birth rate after ART. The antioxidant that produces the best results has yet to be identified.

Not only are the overall pregnancy rates improved. The financial savings from treatment with an antioxidant-rich diet are estimated to be 60% per pregnancy; mainly due to the fact that the spontaneous pregnancy rate is four times higher (Comhaire and Decleer, 2011).

Dr. Jorge Ten, Director Biology of Reproduction Unit of Instituto Bernabeu

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