Role of oxidative stress in female reproduction

Reprod Biol Endocrinol. 2005 Jul 14:3:28. doi: 10.1186/1477-7827-3-28.


In a healthy body, ROS (reactive oxygen species) and antioxidants remain in balance. When the balance is disrupted towards an overabundance of ROS, oxidative stress (OS) occurs. OS influences the entire reproductive lifespan of a woman and even thereafter (i.e. menopause). OS results from an imbalance between prooxidants (free radical species) and the body's scavenging ability (antioxidants). ROS are a double-edged sword - they serve as key signal molecules in physiological processes but also have a role in pathological processes involving the female reproductive tract. ROS affect multiple physiological processes from oocyte maturation to fertilization, embryo development and pregnancy. It has been suggested that OS modulates the age-related decline in fertility. It plays a role during pregnancy and normal parturition and in initiation of preterm labor. Most ovarian cancers appear in the surface epithelium, and repetitive ovulation has been thought to be a causative factor. Ovulation-induced oxidative base damage and damage to DNA of the ovarian epithelium can be prevented by antioxidants. There is growing literature on the effects of OS in female reproduction with involvement in the pathophysiology of preeclampsia, hydatidiform mole, free radical-induced birth defects and other situations such as abortions. Numerous studies have shown that OS plays a role in the pathophysiology of infertility and assisted fertility. There is some evidence of its role in endometriosis, tubal and peritoneal factor infertility and unexplained infertility. This article reviews the role OS plays in normal cycling ovaries, follicular development and cyclical endometrial changes. It also discusses OS-related female infertility and how it influences the outcomes of assisted reproductive techniques. The review comprehensively explores the literature for evidence of the role of oxidative stress in conditions such as abortions, preeclampsia, hydatidiform mole, fetal embryopathies, preterm labour and preeclampsia and gestational diabetes. The review also addresses the growing literature on the role of nitric oxide species in female reproduction. The involvement of nitric oxide species in regulation of endometrial and ovarian function, etiopathogenesis of endometriosis, and maintenance of uterine quiescence, initiation of labour and ripening of cervix at parturition is discussed. Complex interplay between cytokines and oxidative stress in the etiology of female reproductive disorders is discussed. Oxidant status of the cell modulates angiogenesis, which is critical for follicular growth, corpus luteum formation endometrial differentiation and embryonic growth is also highlighted in the review. Strategies to overcome oxidative stress and enhance fertility, both natural and assisted are delineated. Early interventions being investigated for prevention of preeclampsia are enumerated. Trials investigating combination intervention strategy of vitamin E and vitamin C supplementation in preventing preeclampsia are highlighted. Antioxidants are powerful and there are few trials investigating antioxidant supplementation in female reproduction. However, before clinicians recommend antioxidants, randomized controlled trials with sufficient power are necessary to prove the efficacy of antioxidant supplementation in disorders of female reproduction. Serial measurement of oxidative stress biomarkers in longitudinal studies may help delineate the etiology of some of the diosorders in female reproduction such as preeclampsia.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging / physiology
  • Animals
  • Antioxidants / therapeutic use
  • Embryonic Development
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infertility, Female / physiopathology*
  • Menopause / physiology
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase / physiology
  • Oxidative Stress / physiology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / physiopathology
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / pharmacology
  • Reproduction / physiology*
  • Reproductive Techniques, Assisted


  • Antioxidants
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase