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Role of Antioxidants in Male Infertility-The Male pill

Infertility affects about 15% of all couples. Men contribute to approximately 30% of this. In about 20%, both men and women are responsible. In about 50%, a female factor is involved. All these percentages are mere numbers. The biggest problem facing the infertility specialist is “How many of these have a proven cause?” In about a third of men, the reason for a male factor infertility (meaning two sperm counts taken 3 weeks apart are abnormal) is not known. So! What do we do?

This is where empirical therapy comes in. Empirical basically means that before establishing a diagnosis we start treatment based on a strong index of suspicion and firm association. The universal empirical therapy in male infertility is the antioxidant. Not only in fertility, but the veritable antioxidant extends across the board into all fields of medicine from cardiac to cranial health. Who can deny consuming green tea, a naturally occurring antioxidant? In fact, had a friend of mine who filled her water bottle with green tea and carried it around. Is this the height… or is it the pits? Just how much do we know about antioxidants?

Free Radicals or Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) are highly reactive chemical molecules with one or more unpaired electrons which can modify other molecules that they come in contact with. ROS is found in the human spermatozoa which needs small quantities of ROS for certain important functions it performs. The ROS production is kept in check by the body’s own scavenging antioxidant mechanism. When the balance tilts in favor of ROS, injury to the spermatozoa may occur.

Semen abnormalities like low counts (Oligozoospermia), motility problems and morphological changes are often attributed to be caused by oxidative stress due to ROS. While a causal association is proven in many studies it is important to remember that the etiology is multi factorial and population groups affected are diverse. Hence, when a doctor makes a recommendation empirically, a question arises as to whether it really helps? The pills are not cheap.

What about naturally occurring antioxidants? Natural remedies abound and can be supplemented along with the doctor’s prescription. Vitamin E is the most commonly recommended antioxidant which is also available plenty in fish, plant oils and dry fruits like almonds. Lycopene and Vitamin C are others which are also readily available. Lycopene is also a strong anticancer agent which is available in plenty in tomato ketchup.

My two pennies…The male pill helps in some but not in all. The recommended dosage and duration needed are not known. Till more data is available, a short course of antioxidants with natural remedies and lifestyle changes should do it!

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