By Chris D. Meletis, N.D.
The results of a recent study1 on recurrent pregnancy loss suggest that we may have been overlooking a common cause of miscarriage – poor sperm quality. The study, published in January 2019 in Clinical Chemistry, adds to a growing amount of research showing good quality sperm may play a role in supporting a healthy pregnancy—not just in helping a woman conceive in the first place.
If you’ve had at least two or three back-to-back pregnancy losses before 20 weeks’ gestation, you suffer from recurrent miscarriages. Previously, you needed to suffer from three consecutive miscarriages to fall into this category, but recently the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology changed the qualifications to two miscarriages.2 Under the old qualifications, this condition affected 1% to 2% of couples.3 If you’ve gone through this, you know it’s heartbreaking.
What Causes Miscarriages?
Determining the exact cause of miscarriage is difficult. But, in the past, when trying to discover the cause of these multiple miscarriages, doctors focused only on the woman. And we do know that certain maternal health conditions are associated with a higher risk of miscarriage, including untreated hypothyroidism, low progesterone production, uncontrolled diabetes, uterine abnormalities, infections, autoimmune problems, and antiphospholipid antibody syndrome (APS).3
Current guidelines don’t include the routine investigation of male partners as a possible cause of recurrent pregnancy loss.1 However, more and more studies are pointing to damaged sperm as the cause of many recurrent miscarriages. The problem? Too much DNA damage caused by free radicals, otherwise known as reactive oxygen species (ROS). Too many free radicals lead to oxidative stress, a process that can damage sperm DNA.
New Study Sheds Light on the Man’s Role
Scientists at the Imperial College in London published the most recent study on this topic in a journal called Clinical Chemistry in January 2019.1 The researchers compared the sperm quality of 50 men whose partners suffered from recurrent pregnancy loss with sperm quality from men whose partners didn’t experience any miscarriages. The result? There are twice as much DNA damage in the sperm from the men whose partners had multiple miscarriages compared with sperm from men whose partner had a healthy pregnancy. Compared to the controls, the sperm from men whose partners suffered from recurrent pregnancy loss also had four times the amount of ROS.
The study authors suggested several possible reasons for the increased ROS. One could be bacteria from a past infection remaining in the prostate gland, which makes semen, the fluid that contains sperm. The men with faulty sperm were also older and more overweight than their counterparts in the control group. Age and weight could both cause higher ROS levels.
Can Antioxidant Male Fertility Supplements Protect Sperm?
This study suggests that supplementing with antioxidants can reduce ROS damage to sperm. Antioxidants protect against ROS-caused oxidative stress. Although the study didn’t investigate the effects of antioxidant supplementation, past studies have shown that taking antioxidants can keep DNA in sperm healthy. For example, in 101 infertile men who had abnormal semen, an antioxidant supplement (FH PRO for Men from Fairhaven Health) containing L-carnitine, coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), vitamin E, lycopene, N-acetyl L-cysteine, vitamins A, D3, C, and K, B-complex vitamins, iodine, selenium, zinc, copper, manganese, chromium, molybdenum, grape seed extract, benfotiamine, and L-arginine led to 20% less DNA damage, among other benefits.4
Damaged sperm are far more involved in recurrent pregnancy loss than we ever thought before. Protecting them from too many reactive oxygen species can not only help you get pregnant in the first place—it may help you carry your baby to term.
About Dr. Meletis
Dr. Meletis is an internationally recognized naturopathic physician, an accomplished author, and respected educator in the field of natural medicine. Dr. Meletis was honored as a ‘Naturopathic Physician of the Year’ by the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians for his commitment to education and helping those in need. His mission is simply, “changing the world’s health, one person at a time”.
He has authored 14 books on subjects ranging from natural medicine interactions to fertility enhancement and has published over 80 articles in publications such as Natural Health and Natural Pharmacy. Dr. Meletis has served as the Dean of Naturopathic Medicine and Chief Medical Officer for the National College of Naturopathic Medicine (NCNM) for seven years and later as the school’s Senior Science Officer. He sits on several medical advisory boards and has worked with Oregon Health and Science University on a grant from the National Institute of Health to further educate MD graduates on natural medicine.
- Jayasena CN, Radia UK, Figueiredo M, et al. Reduced Testicular Steroidogenesis and Increased Semen Oxidative Stress in Male Partners as Novel Markers of Recurrent Miscarriage. Clinical Chemistry. Published Online January 2019. http://clinchem.aaccjnls.org/content/65/1/161
- Bender R, Christiansen OB, Elson J, et al. ESHRE guideline: recurrent pregnancy loss. Human Reproduction Open. 2018 Apr 6;2018(2):1-12.
- Ford HB, Schust DJ. Recurrent Pregnancy Loss: Etiology, Diagnosis, and Therapy. Rev Obstet Gynecol. 2009 Spring;2(2):76-83.
- Arafa M, Majzoub A, Agarwal A, et al. Is there a role for oral antioxidants in the treatment of infertile men with high sperm DNA fragmentation? Presented at the Foundation of Reproductive Medicine annual conference, New York, November 2018