It appears not. Despite many study results suggesting that antioxidants have a positive effect on abnormal sperm parameters associated with male infertility, a large US clinical trial of 174 couples has found that an antioxidant formulation taken daily by the male partner for a minimum of three months made no difference to sperm concentration, motility or morphology, nor to the rate of DNA fragmentation.
Results of the study, which was performed in eight American fertility centers with the support of the National Institutes of Health, were presented at the annual meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology by Professor Anne Steiner from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
All men in the study had been diagnosed with male factor infertility. The men allocated to the antioxidant intervention were given a daily supplement (in tablet form) containing vitamins C, D3 and E, folic acid, zinc, selenium and L-carnitine; the control group received a placebo.
At three months, results showed only a “slight” overall difference in sperm concentration between the two groups, and no significant differences in morphology, motility or DNA fragmentation measurements. A further measure of the trial was natural conception during the initial three-month study period, but this too did not differ between the two groups—a pregnancy rate of 10.5% in the antioxidant group and 9.1% in the placebo. These rates were also comparable at six months.
The authors explain that many of the previous studies in which antioxidants have been linked to improvements in sperm quality have been limited by small numbers, heterogeneity in patients, variety of antioxidant, and other flaws. This study was designed to close these gaps in knowledge and provide a stronger evidence base.
Based on these findings, Steiner and her colleagues now conclude that “the results do not support the empiric use of antioxidant therapy for male factor infertility in couples trying to conceive naturally.”