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Last revised October 14, 2022

How antioxidants can protect sperm health

If you are looking to improve your fertility parameters, you may have heard that a phenomenon known as oxidative stress can impact male fertility. (Never heard of oxidative stress? Don’t worry — we’ll dive in below.) The good news: nutrients called antioxidants can protect sperm health by offsetting oxidative stress. Let’s explore the science, and review the best vitamins for male fertility.

Key takeaways

  • Oxidative stress is caused when unstable molecules called free radicals outnumber antioxidants in the body. Oxidative stress can harm fertility, especially the genetic health of sperm.
  • Increasing your intake of antioxidants through diet or supplementation (or both) can help reduce oxidative stress and improve sperm health.
  • The best antioxidants for male fertility include CoQ10, vitamin C, selenium, vitamin E, and lycopene.

What is oxidative stress?

Free radicals are unstable molecules that can cause cell damage and contribute to disease. They’re a natural byproduct of your body’s processes, and can be increased by exposure to toxins, illness, or poor lifestyle choices.

Antioxidants are nutrients that neutralize free radicals, and can prevent or slow the damage caused by free radicals. Oxidative stress happens when the free radicals and antioxidants in your body are out of balance. If there are too many free radicals and not enough antioxidants, the free radicals can start to damage your DNA, proteins, and lipids (fatty tissue).

Now, when it comes to oxidative stress and male infertility, the research identifies that oxidative stress has a significant impact on sperm health. Free radicals can harm spermatozoa (male sex cells carrying genetic material) and damage the DNA of these cells. In fact, studies show that 30–80% of infertility cases may be caused by oxidative stress and decreased levels of seminal antioxidant capacity.

Both internal (endogenous) and external (exogenous) factors can cause oxidative stress. Endogenous causes are problems such as a medical condition or a hormone imbalance. Exogenous causes are lifestyle and environmental exposures such as; poor diet, obesity, smoking, drinking alcohol, taking certain medicines, and exposure to environmental pollutants.

With all that in mind, you can increase antioxidants in your diet to help combat free radicals and reduce oxidative stress.

How do antioxidants work to reduce oxidative stress?

Research shows that antioxidants can neutralize free radicals and subsequently reduce oxidative stress, improve immune function, and increase healthy longevity.

Dr. Ramy Abou Ghayda, urologist and chief medical officer at Legacy, explains that antioxidants counteract inflammatory free radicals and reduce their overall levels. So, including numerous endogenous antioxidants in your diet helps to prevent the harmful effects of oxidative stress. 

Since we know that antioxidants are good at reducing oxidative stress, which antioxidants are best for promoting male fertility?

Best antioxidants for male fertility

According to Dr. Ghayda, several antioxidants are beneficial for male fertility, including coenzyme Q10, vitamin C, and selenium.

"However, the most important one is coenzyme Q10, which has the highest level of evidence and highest research studies behind it," he advises. So, let's begin with coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10).

CoQ10

CoQ10

A study published in the International Journal of Reproductive Biomedicine showed the seminal concentration of CoQ10 is linked to key semen parameters such as sperm concentration, motility, and morphology. This is because the total antioxidant capacity, or the ability of your body to neutralize free radicals, improves when supplementing with CoQ10. 

Several studies concur that supplementing with CoQ10 may improve sperm quality and concentration. A 2020 review concluded that CoQ10 has a profound effect on sperm motility. 

You can get CoQ10 from certain foods such as oily fish (salmon and tuna), organ meats (like liver), and whole grains. However, if you feel your diet is lacking, CoQ10 is well absorbed in supplement form. Most studies suggest that doses of 200–300mg of CoQ10 per day are associated with improved sperm health.

Check out the Legacy CoQ10 Fertility Supplement, designed to protect sperm quality and support healthy sperm production.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant. It is widely studied, with results showing that vitamin C may protect sperm from damage and have significant fertility benefits. 

For example, one study found men with infertility who took 250mg of vitamin C twice daily for three months had significantly better sperm motility and morphology values than the control group. Vitamins C, in combination with vitamin E, may also reduce sperm DNA fragmentation (genetic damage to sperm) and improve outcomes from fertility treatment. Oral daily administration of vitamin C may also be effective in the fertility of male partners of couples with recurrent pregnancy loss.

You may know that good dietary sources of vitamin C are citrus fruits like orange, grapefruit, and kiwi. But you can also find vitamin C in peppers, strawberries, blackberries, cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower), and white potatoes. Vitamin C can also be taken as a supplement or as part of a multivitamin for sperm health.

Selenium

Selenium is a trace mineral with antioxidant properties. You often find it combined with vitamins A, C, or E in fertility supplements. Low levels of selenium and zinc in semen have been linked with poor sperm quality.

One study showed a 52% improvement in sperm motility, size, and shape after 100 days of selenium and vitamin E supplementation. The same study also identified a 10.8% increase in pregnancy rates among partners of men in the study. In a more recent study where selenium was researched as a standalone therapy, sperm count, motility, vitality, and normal morphology parameters all increased after infertile men were prescribed 50μg of selenium once a day for three months.

The foods richest in selenium are Brazil nuts, seafood, and organ meats.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is similar to vitamin C in that it is a powerful antioxidant known to help prevent damage from free radicals. Most studies have focused on vitamin E as part of a fertility supplement. Studies show vitamin E and C combinations may be effective in reducing sperm DNA fragmentation.

Vitamin E is found most readily in nuts, seeds, and oils like wheatgerm and soybean oil, sunflower oil and seeds, almonds, and peanuts. However, you can also find vitamin E in avocados, red bell peppers, and asparagus.

Lycopene

Lycopene is a plant nutrient and potent antioxidant. It's the pigment that gives red and pink fruits (like tomatoes and watermelons) their color. Several studies looking at lycopene supplementation have shown promising results in alleviating male infertility, decreasing DNA damage and increasing sperm count and viability

As you can imagine, lycopene is highest in red fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes, apricots, watermelons, papaya, and pink grapefruits.

Sperm improvement backed by science

Developed by our male fertility urology experts, Legacy's sperm health supplements are packed with research-based ingredients. No pseudoscience here.

See supplements

Male fertility multivitamins

A multivitamin may be the simplest way to increase your consumption of all of the above antioxidants. Look for a male fertility-focused supplement that includes at least 200–300mg of CoQ10 daily.

Legacy's male fertility supplement contains 10 carefully selected, research-backed active ingredients, including 5 antioxidants — and no pseudoscience. It's formulated to improve all aspects of fertility. The ingredients include:

  • CoQ10
  • Vitamins C, D, and E,
  • Folate
  • Zinc
  • Selenium
  • Lycopene
  • L-carnitine
  • D-aspartic acid

Other ways to reduce oxidative stress

As well as increasing antioxidants in your diet, there are other ways to reduce oxidative stress. You can change the exogenous factors that cause oxidative stress by:

  • Quitting smoking
  • Wearing a mask in areas of high air pollution
  • Improving your diet and reducing processed foods 
  • Reducing alcohol intake
  • Wearing sunscreen
  • Getting a good night's sleep

Looking to improve your sperm health? Learn more about supplements for male fertility or check out superfoods for your sperm.


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