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Antioxidants unlikely to boost female fertility

Antioxidants, which are found in many fruits and vegetables and are also available in supplements/pill form, are generally accepted to have positive benefits for overall health. Women seeking treatment for infertility often are encouraged to eat foods high in antioxidants or to take antioxidant supplements (e.g., vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin D, melatonin, Omega 3 fatty acids, or combination of supplements) in the hope of boosting their fertility. Antioxidants are thought to reduce the oxidative stress which damages cells and tissues, and can be brought on by conditions such as endometriosis, ovulation problems, poor egg quality, and fallopian tube damage.

However, the results of a recent review study published in The Cochrane Library did not find sufficient evidence that antioxidants increase a woman’s chance of having a baby.  In this study, the authors reviewed 28 randomized controlled trials involving a total of 3,500 “subfertile women” (meaning they were less fertile than other women on average, but were still able to become pregnant). The trials assessed many types of oral antioxidants including vitamins C, E, and D plus calcium, as well as omega 3 fatty acids, melatonin, L-arginine, myo-inositol, and pentoxifylline – a prescription drug sometimes used to treat endometriosis.

All the trials compared women taking antioxidants to women taking a placebo (a sugar pill). The results of this review indicated that women who took antioxidants were not significantly more likely to become pregnant than women who were not taking antioxidants. Says lead author Marian Showell:

“It is thought that the free radical ‘scavenging’ effects of antioxidants would help to repair any oxidative stress occurring in the female reproductive process…This has not been disproven by this review. We just didn’t have high enough quality evidence to prove or disprove it. I wouldn’t say that women should not take antioxidants, only that there is no good evidence that antioxidants will help.”

Also, women who eat foods high in antioxidants may be healthier in other ways such as not smoking and maintaining a healthy weight, making it is difficult to determine the specific role of vitamins and minerals in increasing the chances of pregnancy. Showell suggests that doctors might recommend that women with fertility problems ensure that they are eating a balanced diet, sleeping well, maintaining a healthy weight, and not smoking.

To read the study abstract, click here.

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