The role of oxidative stress and antioxidants in male fertility

Cent European J Urol. 2013;66(1):60-7. doi: 10.5173/ceju.2013.01.art19. Epub 2013 Apr 26.


Oxidative stress results from the imbalance between production of the reactive oxygen species (ROS) and the protective effect of the antioxidant system responsible for their neutralization and removal. An excess of ROS causes a pathological reaction resulting in damage to cells and tissues. Spermatozoa are particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects of ROS. Oxidative stress affects their activity, damages DNA structure, and accelerates apoptosis, all of which consequently decrease their numbers, hinders motility and development of normal morphology, and impairs function. This leads to disturbances in fertility or embryo development disorder. The main cellular source of ROS in the semen are immature sperm cells and white blood cells. The increase in the number of leukocytes may be due to infection and inflammation, but can also be secondary to harmful environmental factors, long sexual abstinence, or varicocele. The protective antioxidant system in the semen is composed of enzymes, as well as nonenzymatic substances, which closely interact with each other to ensure optimal protection against ROS. Non-enzymatic antioxidants include vitamins A, E, C, and B complex, glutathione, pantothenic acid, coenzyme Q10 and carnitine, and micronutrients such as zinc, selenium, and copper. It seems that a deficiency of any of them can cause a decrease in total antioxidant status. In vitro and in vivo that studies demonstrate many antioxidants possess a beneficial effect on fertility and, therefore, their use is recommended as supportive therapy for the treatment of infertility in men.

Keywords: antioxidants; fertility; infertility treatment; male; oxidative stress; sperm.

Publication types

  • Review