A new analysis suggests that antioxidants could play a significant role in addressing infertility issues in both women and men, including erectile dysfunction.
Tory Hagen, in the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University, and Francesco Visioli, lead author of the study at the Madrid Institute for Advanced Studies in Spain, also observed that infertility problems are often an early indicator of other degenerative disease issues such as atherosclerosis, high blood pressure and congestive heart failure. The same approaches that may help treat infertility could also be of value to head off those problems, they said.
"If oxidative stress is an underlying factor causing infertility, which we think the evidence points to, we should be able to do something about it," said Hagen, the Jamieson Chair of Healthspan Research in the Linus Pauling Institute.
"This might help prevent other critical health problems as well, at an early stage when nutritional therapies often work best," he added.
The results from early research have been equivocal, Hagen said, but that may be because they were too small or did not focus on antioxidants. Laboratory and in-vitro studies have been very promising, especially with some newer antioxidants such as lipoic acid that have received much less attention.
"The jury is still out on this," Hagen said.
"But the problem is huge, and the data from laboratory studies is very robust, it all fits. There is evidence this might work, and the potential benefits could be enormous," added Hagen.
If new approaches were developed successfully, the researchers said, they might help treat erectile dysfunction in men, egg implantation and endometriosis in women, and reduce the often serious and sometimes fatal condition of pre-eclampsia in pregnancy. The quality and health of semen and eggs might be improved.
The study has been published online in the journal Pharmacological Research.