Is your sperm count dropping low? Can antioxidant and multivitamin tablets help?

Can including multivitamins, ginseng and lycopene in our daily diet improve the quality of the human sperm, which has been declining over the past few decades? While lifestyle factors like smoking, alcohol, diet and a sedentary lifestyle have impacted sperm counts, a new study shows that a combination of antioxidants, micronutrients and vitamins can enhance male fertility.

The Indian study — ‘Impact of antioxidants in improving semen parameters like count, motility and DNA fragmentation in sub-fertile males: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial’ — has been published in the international journal ‘Translational and Clinical Pharmacology.’ It shows how a combination of multivitamins, minerals, essential amino acids, ginseng and lycopene boosted sperm count by 75.76 per cent among 300 males with a baseline sperm count of less than five million/ml across 10 locations in India.

This is not a one-off study. Several global studies have also echoed the same findings. Dr Ameet Patki, the Mumbai-based medical director of Fertility Associates and Chairperson of RCOG (Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists), India, is the principal investigator of the study while Rohit Shelatkar, vice-president of a nutraceutical major, Meyer Vitabiotics, is part of the team that conducted clinical trials.

How prevalent is male infertility in India? Can you give comparative data with developed countries?

Dr Patki: Male infertility is a significant problem in India, contributing to 20 per cent of the total infertility cases as the sole cause and 50 per cent with female factors. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one in every five couples in developing countries is prone to infertility. India has 15-20 million infertile couples per year. Factors such as poor nutrition, obesity, smoking, alcohol, substance abuse, drug addiction, pollution, lack of sex education and high rates of sexually transmitted infections may contribute to the prevalence of male infertility in India. As compared to developed countries, the rates of male infertility are almost the same and rising globally. Lifestyle factors that negatively affect male fertility include sedentary behaviour, excessive exercise, high scrotal temperature from tight clothing or hot baths and so on.

Antioxidants are frequently referred to as cancer and heart disease fighters. How can they help in improving sperm quality?

Shelatkar: Antioxidants in the form of essential amino acids, vitamins and minerals are essential for energy metabolism and spermatozoa maturation. They have the potential of keeping sperm DNA integrity. Thus, antioxidants effectively reduce oxidative stress and improve semen parameters.

How is your study different from the already published studies on the role of antioxidants related to infertility?

Shelatkar: Most previous studies were either done with single ingredients or a select few antioxidants, while our study uses a blend of antioxidants that includes vitamins, minerals and amino acids formulated as a single tablet. Additionally, our study includes the assessment of sperm DNA fragmentation, which is a crucial parameter in evaluating male infertility. Therefore, our study stands out in its comprehensive approach in evaluating the role of antioxidants in managing male infertility.

What are the primary findings of your study?

Dr Patki: It can be rightly concluded from the trial that along with lifestyle changes to include proper diets and exercise, a blend of antioxidants and micronutrients has proven to be effective in improving the fertility parameters such as sperm count, DFI, sperm motility, and sperm normal morphology in sub-fertile men. The sample size of the trial was 300 sub-fertile males. A success rate of 66.4 per cent was seen in test subjects with improved sperm counts. Ageing deteriorates semen parameters, hence men above 35 will experience better results.

Can you elaborate on DNA fragmentation and how nutrients/antioxidants affect it?

Dr Patki: Sperm DNA fragmentation is known to be higher in infertile men. If it exceeds 30 per cent of the normal value, then it implies that sperm quality is significantly reduced, affecting fertilisation and increasing rates of miscarriage. Our research highlighted the fact that the group taking supplements had statistically reduced levels of DNA fragmentation. Thus, the chances of conceiving increase significantly in couples.

Does male infertility still carry a stigma?

Shelatkar: Infertility has historically been seen as a woman’s issue, leading to a lack of awareness and stigma surrounding male infertility. However, it’s essential to remember that infertility is a medical issue that can affect anyone, and seeking help is a crucial step in the journey towards parenthood. As a matter of fact, it is much easier to treat infertility in a man as his sperm is produced every 12 weeks unlike a woman, who is born with a set number of eggs.

Is male infertility treatable?

Dr Patki: Male infertility includes genetic causes, which unfortunately cannot be corrected. Barring that small percentage, most infertility cases can be treated with supplements or hormonal treatments.

What precautionary measures should men adopt to prevent infertility?

Dr Patki: Young men need to be more careful about taking creatine and other testosterone supplements to bulk up their bodies because they affect their sperm count. Also, they should incorporate lifestyle and nutritional changes. Married men can make nutrition and lifestyle changes, including maintaining a healthy diet and regular exercise. Seeking professional medical advice is also important as a doctor can provide a diagnosis and suggest treatments such as medication, surgery or assisted reproductive technologies.

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