Doctors occasionally recommend antioxidants for treatment of male infertility caused by low quality sperms.
Antioxidants are compounds found in food (mainly in fruits and vegetables) that stop or delay damage to the cells by cleaning up, or removing waste products in the cells.
The antioxidants encompass nutrients, mostly vitamins, and minerals that are usually given as supplements (in tablet form) to men facing infertility changes.
While many clinicians have embraced this treatment approach over the years, a new large-scale trial conducted in the United States shows that it does not have any impact on sperm parameters associated with male infertility.
These include sperm concentration (quantities) morphology (size or shape), motility (movement), as well as DNA fragmentation or damage.
The results of the research trial, which was performed in eight American fertility centres with the support of the National Institutes of Health, were released on Monday, July 2,2018 at the 34th Annual Meeting of European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE) by ProfAnne Steiner from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the US.
In the study, which involved 147 couples, male partners were given an antioxidant formulation that they were required to take daily for a minimum of three months.
All men in the study had been diagnosed with male factor infertility, characterised by sub-normal levels of sperm concentration, shape, size or movement, as well as higher than normal rates of sperm DNA damage.
Findings of the trial showed that the supplements made no difference to the above sperm parameters.
“The results of this large clinical trial do not therefore support the use of antioxidant therapy for male factor infertility in couples trying to conceive naturally,” said Steiner.
The study participants were divided into two groups – experimental and control. All their sperm parameters were measured at the start of the trial and at three months. In between, the infertile men allocated to the experimental group were given a daily supplement - in tablet form - containing vitamins (C, D3 and E), folic acid, zinc, selenium and L-carnitine. The control group did not receive the supplements.
At three months, results showed that there was no significant difference in sperm concentration, structure, movement or DNA damage in the experimental group, compared to the control one.
This study adds to the growing number of research papers that have cast doubt on the impact of antioxidants on sperm quality.
Those against this approach of tackling infertility cases urge affected men to explore other interventions such as taking medications that boost sperm production or antibiotics which heal infections that enhance infertility. Hormonal therapy to address impotence caused by hormonal imbalances is also recommended.
Simple lifestyle changes such as avoiding hot showers (tubs or saunas), as well as embracing loose underwear such as boxer shorts can also help address infertility problems in men.
In case all of these options fail to work, couples can resort to artificial insemination or invitro-fertilisation (IVF) to boost conception.
The clinical definition of male factor infertility is the presence of abnormal semen parameters in the male partner of a couple unable to achieve conception after one year of unprotected intercourse.
The main sign of male infertility is the inability to conceive a child. Other symptoms of the condition, which may be less noticeable to affected men include problems with sexual function. Such people usually complain of ejaculation challenges, reduced sexual desire and difficulties in maintaining an erection. They may experience pain, swelling or a lump in the testicle area.
Recurrent respiratory infections, inability to smell, abnormal breast growth and decreased facial or body hair, are also linked to male infertility.
The following factors enhance impotence risk in men: ageing, psychological stress, alcohol use, tobacco consumption, poor diet, low physical activity and side effects of certain pharmaceutical drugs.
Irrespective of their insignificant impact on male infertility, health experts note that antioxidants should still form a major part of people’s diets since they are good immune boosters that guard against many ailments whilst reducing heart diseases and cancer risk.