What are free radicals?
Free radicals are molecules produced by reactions in the body during metabolism when your body breaks down food, or by environmental factors like cigarette smoke, toxic chemicals, pollution and radiation. High levels of free radicals can damage cells through a process called oxidative stress, and are thought to play a role in chronic diseases like diabetes and cancer. It’s also believed that free radical damage may have an impact on fertility.
Antioxidants and fertility
Everything in the body is made of cells, and these need to be protected from free radicals. With fertility, not only are the ovum (egg) and sperm made up of cells which can be affected by free radical damage, but the reproductive organs and glands that produce reproductive hormones are, too.
Around one in 20 men are sub-fertile. Male infertility can be caused by a low sperm count, poor sperm motility, and abnormal shaped sperm morphology, which may all be signs of increased oxidative stress in the body.
Sperm contain vitamins E and C as well as other antioxidants which scavenge free radicals that may break down sperm membranes and damage sperm DNA. These defenses, however, can be overwhelmed by elevated levels of free radicals. It makes sense that adding extra antioxidants to your diet may help improve your health. Researchers found that men who took antioxidants in supplement form had less DNA damaged sperm than men who didn’t.
Antioxidants for fertility and where you can find them
Eat a nutrient-dense fertility diet including fruits, vegetables and wholegrains. All of these foods offer an array of nutrients. Eat a lot more raw food as well.
Antioxidants in supplement form
Antioxidant nutrients work together, and should therefore never be supplemented in high doses on their own. The following nutrients are antioxidants, or work with antioxidants, and are vital for both male and female fertility
||Role in fertility||Foods
|Zinc||Essential for sperm health. Supports fertility and reduces the risk of miscarriage.||Oysters, spinach, venison, red meat.|
|Selenium||Prevents chromosome breakage, and maximizes sperm formation.||Brazil nuts, salmon, eggs.|
|Vitamin E||Increases fertility and makes sperm more fertile.||Nuts, seeds, oils, leafy greens.|
|Vitamin C||Enhances sperm quality and protects DNA from damage.||Fruit and vegetables.|
|Lipoic Acid||Helps to protect female reproductive organs and improves sperm quality and motility.||Small quantities are found in potatoes, spinach and red meat.|
|Beta-carotenes||Promote hormone balance.||Orange-coloured fruit and vegetables, and green vegetables.|