Researchers from New Zealand reviewed more than 30 studies on male infertility and found that men who are subfertile, those with below-average fertility who are still able to father a child, were four times more likely to get their partners pregnant if they were taking antioxidant supplements regularly than if they weren't.
To investigate, researchers reviewed 34 studies that involved nearly 3,000 couples undergoing fertility treatments, including in vitro fertilization and intrauterine insemination, two of the most commonly used methods of boosting conception odds when sperm-related issues are involved. Each study investigated the potential role of one or more antioxidants.
Based on 96 pregnancies among 964 couples in 15 of the studies, the researchers found that antioxidant use by the male partner increased the odds of conception four-fold.
Further, men taking antioxidants improved the likelihood of their partners giving birth to a live baby by a factor of five, the researchers report in The Cochrane Library.
The New Zealand research team stops short of saying that antioxidants actually improve fertility, however. More research is needed to be sure.
It's estimated that subfertility affects one in 20 men and is responsible for half of delayed conceptions. Up to 80 percent of cases are thought to be due to the effects of oxidative stress on sperm cells, lowering both their numbers and their quality.
Oxidative stress happens when molecules known as free radicals, byproducts of cell metabolism, damage DNA and cells' ability to function. Antioxidants, including certain vitamins and nutrients, such as vitamin E and vitamin C help to protect cells by stabilizing free radicals.
Researchers cautioned that couples should not count on antioxidants to overcome their fertility challenges. Even if certain supplements prove effective, further research is needed to determine which couples could reap the specific benefits.
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