Antioxidant Supplements Of No Proven Help To Women Trying to Conceive

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Antioxidants neutralize harmful compounds produced within the body known as free radicals. Stopping the damage and protecting the cells appears to be helpful in deterring premature aging and the process of some diseases. Since both the ovum (egg) and sperm are made of cells that can be affected by free radical damage, it seems to follow that protecting the cells from these compounds could potentially help a couple conceive.

Unfortunately, it isn’t that easy.

Researchers with the University of Auckland (New Zealand) evaluated data from 28 trials involving a total of more than 3500 women attending fertility clinics. Women who were taking dietary supplements to increase their chances of becoming pregnant were no more successful than women not taking antioxidants (or given placebos).

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Overall, the researchers considered the quality of the trials to be low or very low and the number of different antioxidants tested made it difficult to make comparisons. Examples of antioxidant supplement products included OctatronR, Fertility Blend, and individual nutrients such as N-acetylcysteine, L-arginine, Vitamin E, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Calcium and Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids.

A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) actually found that antioxidant supplements may actually be the cause of some female fertility problems. In a study of mice, Dr. Nava Dekel of the Wiezmann Institute of Science found that antioxidants applied to the ovaries of female mice cause ovulation levels to drop.

The Cochrane Review did not find any obvious issues with taking dietary supplements – such as an increased rate of ectopic pregnancy or miscarriage – but the researchers warn that there is little evidence on the safety or side effects of such over-the-counter supplements.

About 15-25% of couples planning a baby are thought to have difficulty conceiving. It appears to be equally divided between issues with the man’s fertility and the woman’s, so both should take extra efforts to improve several lifestyle habits to increase the chances of starting a family. These include weight control (which can delay a woman’s time to conceive), quitting smoking (impairs both male and female fertility), and avoidance of harmful chemical exposure (again, can affect both a man’s and woman’s infertility).

Journal References:
"Antioxidants for female subfertility," DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD007807.pub2, The Cochrane Library, 5 August 2013.
K. Shkolnik, A. Tadmor, S. Ben-Dor, N. Nevo, D. Galiani, N. Dekel. Reactive oxygen species are indispensable in ovulation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2011; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1017213108

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