Female Fertility and Antioxidants

While study shows the unlikelihood of antioxidants providing much help with female subfertility, taking antioxidants could still be a good idea

In a 2013 study about whether or not antioxidants benefit female subfertility, researchers tried to determine whether supplementary oral antioxidants compared with a placebo, no treatment or standard treatment, or another antioxidant would improve fertility outcomes for subfertile women. Subfertility is a delay in conceiving, and the results came out to state that the comparisons between ‘antioxidant versus placebo or no treatment’ and ‘antioxidant versus antioxidant’ were very low. Antioxidants were not associated with an increased live birth rate or clinical pregnancy rate. On the other hand, some sources give the suggestions that taking antioxidants do boost fertility. Therefore, this article will: 

  • Delve deeper into the study 
  • Look into why the antioxidants were not aligned with increased fertility
  • And look further into how antioxidants may help with fertility and which ones to take
A close up of a lady's pregnant belly
A further look into the study proves that antioxidants may not be the solution for female subfertility.

A more in-depth look into the study

What the findings are and which antioxidants were taken 

First and foremost, antioxidants are thought to reduce the oxidative stress brought on by conditions such as ovulatory disorders, poor egg quality, fallopian tube damage, and endometriosis. It is estimated that for 40% to 50% of couples, subfertility may be a result of one of these female problems. The study initially states that limited evidence suggests that antioxidants improve fertility. 

The objective of the study was to determine whether supplementary oral antioxidants compared with placebo, no treatment/standard treatment, or another antioxidant improve fertility outcomes for subfertile women. The selection criteria included randomized controlled trials among women attending a reproductive clinic. 

A total of 28 trials involving 3548 women were included in the review. The investigators compared oral antioxidants, including combinations of antioxidants, pentoxifylline, N-acetyl-cysteine, melatonin, L-arginine, vitamin E, myo-inositol, vitamin C, vitamin D+calcium and omega-3-polyunsaturated fatty acids with placebo, with no treatment/standard treatment or another antioxidant. 

Overhead shot of a woman with her head in her hands
If you are a female struggling with fertility, this study shows that taking antioxidants is not necessarily the best solution.

Why aren’t the antioxidants aligned with increased fertility?

Even though taking antioxidants may seem to help, do they really?

Antioxidants were not associated with an increased live birth rate compared with placebo or no treatment/standard treatment. This suggests that among subfertile women with an expected live birth rate of 37%, the rate among women taking antioxidants would be between 10% and 83%. In addition, antioxidants were not associated with an increased clinical pregnancy rate compared with placebo or no treatment/standard treatment. This suggests that among subfertile women with an expected clinical pregnancy rate of 23%, the rate among women taking antioxidants would be between 22% and 36%. 

Only one trial reported on live birth in the antioxidant versus antioxidant comparison, and two trials reported on clinical pregnancy in this comparison. Only subtotals were used in this analysis, and meta-analysis was not possible as each trial used a different antioxidant. Pentoxifylline was associated with an increased clinical pregnancy rate compared with placebo or no treatment. 

Adverse events were reported by 14 trials in the meta-analysis and included miscarriage, multiple pregnancy, ectopic pregnancy and gastrointestinal effects. No evidence revealed a difference in adverse effects between antioxidant groups and control groups, but these data were limited. The overall quality of evidence was 'very low' to 'low' because of poor reporting of outcomes, the number of small studies included, high risk of bias within studies and heterogeneity in the primary analysis.  

All of this is to say that even though it was thought that taking antioxidants would prove to be beneficial and increase female fertility, that was not the case. Furthermore, there was no proof that antioxidants caused negative effects, although it was stated that data for this outcome was limited. At the same time, another source explains why taking antioxidants and other supplements can be beneficial, even if it is not scientifically proven.

A close up of blueberries
Foods high in antioxidants like blueberries are not necessarily an alternative to taking supplements, but can be a welcome addition.

How antioxidants and other supplements may help with fertility and which ones to take

Even though the scientific studies states otherwise, taking antioxidant supplements may be of some help when dealing with female fertility problems

You may be able to boost your fertility with antioxidant supplements. There are many factors that contribute to oxidative stress, as we mentioned earlier, and antioxidants are the antidote to these factors. Some of these factors include but are not limited to: 

  • Toxins such as bisphenol-A (BPA), parabens, phthalates, herbicides and pesticides
  • Aging
  • Psychological stress
  • Obesity
  • Poor nutrition
  • Not enough exercise
  • Drinking excess caffeine
  • Imbalanced insulin levels due to sugar intake, diabetes or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
  • Using a cell phone or other technology or placing it near reproductive organs

Antioxidants help cancel out oxidative stress caused by too many free radicals. This can improve your egg quality and lead to more regular cycles. There are a lot of different kinds of antioxidants including vitamins C and E. There are also many botanical antioxidants. Many fertility doctors recommend an antioxidant-rich prenatal supplement. Once a woman is in her mid to late-30s, it is important to protect and preserve the eggs that she has left. This can be done by taking a melatonin to improve egg maturation during IVF treatments.

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is another antioxidant powerhouse that can improve egg quality. It can lead to a higher fertilization rate and more high quality embryos. CoQ10 also has increased the number of ovarian follicles and improved ovulation. 

Myo-inositol increases the rate of ovulation. N-acetyl cysteine increases ovulation and pregnancy rates. D-chiro-inositol is another good fertility nutrient because it supports healthy insulin secretion, especially in women with polycystic ovary syndrome.

Also make sure your prenatal antioxidant includes the active form of folate because many potential mothers have a mutation that causes poor absorption of folic acid. That means your unborn baby won’t get enough folate, a nutrient necessary to prevent birth defects. This mutation can lead to a reduced rate of live births after IVF.

While a study looking into antioxidants and their effect on female fertility proved that they weren’t as effective as originally thought, another source proves that taking antioxidants can increase the likelihood of female fertility. Do your research and make sure you are taking what best works with your body, as every individual varies.

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