Infertility is a vast and abstract concept. However, if simplified, infertility is the inability to conceive, even after a year of unprotected intercourse. According to the numbers specified by the National Center of Biotechnology Information, USA, there are around 30 million cases of male infertility across the globe. While emotional, physical and lifestyle aspects being the most common reasons for infertility in both men and women, there are many cases where the culprit is oxidative stress.

What is oxidative stress?

Oxidative stress or OS is an imbalance between the formation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and the scavenging ability of antioxidants. The male sperm is exceptionally vulnerable to reactive oxygen species. This is because the plasma membrane and cytoplasm in the body have polyunsaturated fatty acids in abundance. However, a decent level of ROS is needed for the maturation of sperm, an excess of it hampers the neutralizing capacity of antioxidants in the body which further hinders the pro-oxidants molecules that are an essential component in keeping the male fertility intact.

How to tell that your body is experiencing oxidative stress?

There are seven visible signs of oxidative stress in the body -

  • Fatigue
  • Sudden memory loss
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Joint pain
  • Sensitivity to noise
  • Constant headache
  • Increased greyish hair

How does it affect male fertility?

Oxidative stress affects male fertility in three ways -

  • Impairment of Sperm - An impaired sperm count is one of the critical effects of oxidative stress on male fertility. As per various medical studies, the nucleohistone compartment of sperm that contains histone-bound sequences of DNA’s like promoters and telomeres, get highly damaged because of oxidative stress. Moreover, oxidative stress leads to a decrease in the level of protamine 1 and 2, that further causes a change in the chromatin composition of the sperm.
  • Sperm Dysfunction - Another way in which oxidative stress leads to male infertility is by weakening the proteins found in the cell plasma membrane of sperm. This damage decreases the fluidity of the sperm and triggers infertility in men. Excessive ROS in the body also reduces the motility of the sperm.
  • Fragmentation of Sperm DNA - Oxidative stress sometimes result in issues like DNA crosslinking and uneven fragmentation of sperm DNA in single-strand and double-strand. Because of this, the chances of replication errors and genomic instability increases that can further cause DNA damage and decrease in sperm count.

Oxidative stress remains a substantial cause of infertility, both in men and women. A diet rich in antioxidants and restrictions from smoking, drinking, etc. is essential to keep the ROS level balanced.

Medically reviewed by Rishabh Verma, RP