Oxidative stress degrades sperm and hurts men’s fertility health. Here’s how to fight back.
There are so many things out of our control when we are trying to conceive - and we know it is so frustrating when it takes longer than expected. When you’re trying to conceive, there are few things more frustrating than negative pregnancy tests, cycle after cycle. Consulting your doctor is a great first step to sorting out fertility trouble, but 15-30% of couples who seek fertility healthcare are given the vague diagnosis of “unexplained infertility.” While several factors contribute to your overall health and fertility, there is one dynamic that can fly under the radar: the damaging effects of oxidative stress.
Fertility doctors and nutrition scientists agree that oxidative stress likely plays a major factor in infertility for both men and women. Cellular stress from oxidation might be more common than you think. Luckily, proper preconception nutrition can help you fight back. A 2013 meta-analysis of clinical studies where infertile men took antioxidant supplements to support sperm health found that 95% of these studies “reported a significant reduction of oxidative stress or DNA damage after treatments with antioxidants.”
Here’s how oxidative stress wreaks havoc on your chances of conceiving a healthy pregnancy, and how you can optimize your nutrition for maximum fertility health.
Oxidative Stress and Fertility
When we talk about oxidative stress, we’re talking about molecular-level biological processes that have a big impact on your fertility health. A major part of the oxidative stress story has to do with the presence of reactive oxygen species (ROS) at work within your body in ways that damage your cells.
Sperm are particularly vulnerable to stress from too much oxidation in the body. Fertility doctors believe that damage from unchecked reactive oxygen radicals (ROS) can degrade sperm motility, making it harder for sperm to move to the egg for fertilization. ROS can also damage sperm membranes so that sperm have a tough time fusing with an egg. And ROS can disrupt the process of copying your DNA into maturing sperm, which matters a lot because male DNA is the primary instruction manual for the formation of a healthy placenta. (Check out influencer Filipa Jackson’s account of her partner’s experience with a diagnosis of sperm DNA fragmentation. Spoiler: they got a happy ending!)
Checking for DNA fragmentation isn’t a part of routine sperm analysis, and it can be a piece of the fertility puzzle that many men aren’t aware of. We recommend asking for this test! The presence of DNA fragmentation is a signal that the concentration of reactive oxygen radicals (ROS) in semen is too high and has been found to coincide with the male fertility problems we mentioned above.
Here’s how ROS can cause so much damage. You have probably heard of one type of ROS, the type called “free radicals.” Free radicals are one kind of ROS, but they aren’t the only one. What all ROS have in common is that they have one or more unpaired electron. This free electron makes ROS highly capable of producing chain reactions that can damage your cells. ROS do have a positive role to play in mediating some cell functions, but when your concentration of ROS gets too high, your cellular health can deteriorate.
ROS are formed by the mitochondria in your own cells metabolizing oxygen to give you energy. You can also pick them up in other ways, such as from radiation, including UV light, or from secondhand smoke. And ROS aren’t all bad, on their own, but they do cause trouble when there are too many of them, and not enough action from your body’s antioxidant processes.
So that’s the other part of the oxidative stress story: antioxidants.
Antioxidant Nutrition for Optimal Fertility
On the most general level, antioxidants are molecules found in food that have the power to neutralize ROS in your body. They do this either by offering extra electrons to form a pair with the free electron of an ROS molecule, or by breaking down free radical molecules entirely.
Antioxidants are continually used up in the process of neutralizing ROS, so it’s essential to fuel your body with a continuous supply. This can be hard to do with diet alone, which explains why supplementation with antioxidants is correlated with improvements in sperm quality markers and higher rates of conception and live birth.
You’ve likely already heard of antioxidants like Vitamins C, E, and D. In addition to these, studies show positive outcomes for male fertility following supplementation with selenium, lycopene, l-carnitine, zinc, folate, N-acetyl cysteine and CoQ10.
That’s a lot of antioxidants, we know! That’s why we followed the fertility research on antioxidants when we formulated our men’s prenatal multivitamin. We made Beli a single, complete supplement for men’s fertility support that you can take without having to guess about ingredient quality, or purchase a pile of different pills. For example, taking folate and zinc in combination has been positively associated with sperm count in both fertile and sub-fertile men, so we made sure Beli Men includes both, in the highest-quality forms available. Same goes for selenium combined with Vitamin E, which has been shown to have a beneficial protective effect on sperm motility. We stand behind the science of our Beli Men preconception multivitamin. It’s the best antioxidant tool to help your body sweep away harmful reactive oxygen molecules that threaten your fertility.
For more on this topic, we recommend The Preconception Podcast’s episode titled The Importance of Nutrition for Sperm Health. In the episode, Brooke Boskovich, a functional dietician specializing in fertility and hormone balance, takes a deep-dive into the factors that can lead to a fertility-damaging level of oxidative stress. “Nutrition, sleep quality, stress management, exercise, and environmental exposures all play a role in the amount of oxidative stress that is happening in your body,” Boskovich explains. “Luckily, just with focusing on nutrition and lifestyle changes, there’s great research that shows significant improvements in sperm quality can happen.” She also recommends her top picks for men’s preconception multivitamins (and Beli Men is at the top of her list!).
Our advisory board of doctors and nutritionists helped ensure that the Beli Men Vitality Blend includes the right ingredients in the right amounts to help counteract the harmful effects of oxidative stress on your fertility health. Don’t let oxidative stress damage your chance of becoming a dad. Give Beli a try!