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‘Antioxidant supplements do not improve sperm quality’


Credit: Chemistry World

Antioxidants have long been used to treat male infertility as they are thought to reduce oxidative stress on sperm.

However, a new study has found no evidence that supplements do anything to increase a man’s chance of conceiving.

The large clinical trial of 174 couples across eight fertility centers in America – one of the biggest trials to date on supplements and sperm health – saw ‘slight’ changes after three months, but nowhere near enough to make a difference in fertility.


The findings call into question, yet again, the thin science supporting the booming supplement industry.

All men in the study, led by Professor Anne Steiner from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, United States (US), had been diagnosed with male factor infertility.

Sperm quality is measured using four main factors.

First: sperm concentration. A ‘normal’ sperm concentration falls between 15 million and over 200 million sperm per milliliter of semen.

A man is diagnosed with a ‘low’ sperm count if they have fewer than 15 million sperm per milliliter (i.e. less than 39 million sperm per ejaculation).

Second: motility, or the ability for sperm to swim deftly towards the egg. A common cause of infertility is sperm that moves slowly.

Third: morphology, which refers to the size and shape of semen. To be fertile, men need at least four percent of their sperm to be ‘normal’ shape (with an oval head and a long tail).

An ‘abnormal’ sperm might have a crooked head or a short tail, or even more than one tail, which can make it harder to penetrate the egg.

Lastly, they measured whether the men had a higher amount of Deoxy ribonucleic Acid (DNA)/genetic material fragmentation in their sperm than would be deemed ‘normal’.

These sperm parameters were measured at the start of the trial and at three months.

While ‘spermatogenesis’ (the process of sperm maturing) takes 74 days, the impact of antioxidants is short-term, meaning the effects should be seen very soon after starting the treatment.

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