Infertility, defined as the inability of a couple to conceive after at least 12 months of regular, unprotected sex, affects about 15% of couples worldwide. Several factors can lead to infertility, but specific to men, infertility has been linked to lower levels of antioxidants in their semen. This exposes them to an increased risk of chemically reactive species containing oxygen, which can damage sperm.
These reactive oxygen species are naturally involved in various pathways essential for normal reproduction. But uncontrolled and excessive levels of reactive oxygen species results in damage to your cells (or “oxidative stress”). This can affect semen health, and damage the DNA carried in the sperm, leading to the onset of male infertility.
Can supplements improve sperm health?
Antioxidants have long been used to manage male infertility as they can help alleviate the detrimental role of reactive oxygen species and oxidative stress on sperm health.
Generally speaking, studies have shown favourable effects with supplementation, but results have been rather inconsistent due to large variations in study design, antioxidant formulations, and dosages.
Several lab studies have reported beneficial effects of antioxidants such as vitamins E and C on the mobility of the sperm and DNA integrity (absence of breaks or nicks in the DNA). But these haven’t been able to be replicated in humans.
There is some research suggesting six months of supplementation with vitamin E and selenium can increase sperm motility and the percentage of healthy, living sperm, as well as pregnancy rates. Other studies have found improvements in sperm volume, DNA damage, and pregnancy rate following treatment with supplements l-carnitine (an amino acid), Coenzyme Q10, and zinc.