Antioxidants and fertility health

Eating well and taking care of your body is important for everybody, but it really is essential when you’re preparing for a baby. In this guest post, nutritionist Angela Attwood talks about antioxidants and fertility health. When you get healthy by changing the way you eat, your body gets healthier, supporting healthier egg and sperm production and an altogether better environment in which to start growing another human being.

Increasing your antioxidant intake is a great first step to supporting egg and sperm health.

Antioxidants have been the subject of much research in disease and anti-aging as well as fertility. We have our own antioxidant system to deal with free radicals and are also reliant on antioxidants from our diet.

In small amounts free radicals are essential to life, we need them for energy, producing hormones and fighting viruses and infections.

Antioxidants work by neutralising free radicals or reactive oxygen species, which our body’s produce all of the time.

antioxidants for fertility health
Introducing more antioxidants into your diet over the winter months boosts fertility health

However, our modern lives mean that we are exposed to free radicals in the environment too. Pollution, pesticides, alcohol, smoking, obesity and ageing all increase free radicals which can increase the likelihood of oxidative stress, a process that happens when there is an imbalance of antioxidants to free radicals.

Oxidative stress has the potential to cause damage in the body, especially to fats, proteins and DNA which can lead to disease and in the case of fertility health, damage to eggs and sperm.

Sperm with egg – antioxidants protect against damage

Sperm at risk

Oocytes are the largest cell in the body, they are 500x larger than a sperm cell, this means that they have much more cytoplasm so that have a greater capacity to repair any free radical damage. Sperm cells because they are so much smaller with a higher fatty membrane are more vulnerable to damage.

We also know that any inflammation in the body which can be part and parcel of endometriosis and PCOS and can also be a factor in unsuccessful IVF cycles and miscarriage causes free radical formation. Allergies, digestive issues, excess weight and lack of sleep may also increase inflammation and free radical production.

If you are struggling to get fertility fit Angela provides a free first consultation on getting fit for fertility contact us for more information

Antioxidants and fertility health

The great news is antioxidants and healthy lifestyle choices have the potential to minimise the effects of oxidative stress, and support egg and sperm health.

Antioxidants reduce free radical damage and protect our cells including oocytes, sperm and ultimately the developing embryo.

Winter time, and especially as we start the New Year can be a time when all we want to eat is comforting foods, but we can still ensure they are full of antioxidants. To maximise your intake, start the New Year by embracing the veg. Include a good base of vegetables along with seasonal fruits of colours from across the rainbow to enjoy the whole spectrum of antioxidants.

Boost your Winter antioxidant intake by including:

  • Taste – the greater the variety of taste from plant foods whether its earthy, bitter, acidic or sweet is also really important in providing a diverse range of antioxidants.
  • Five servings of vegetables and fruits each day will help to fuel your body with antioxidants.
  • Citrus fruits, apples and pears and frozen berries. Steaming or baking apples makes a great breakfast or dessert with yogurt and nuts, adding frozen berries to a bowl of steaming porridge, will raise its antioxidant content.
  • British seasonal veg such as beetroot, Brussels Sprouts, carrots, celeriac, celery, chicory, Jerusalem Artichokes, kale, leeks, mushrooms, onions, parsnips, red cabbage, savoy cabbage, spring greens, spring onions, squash, swede, turnip, white cabbage are all perfect right now. Not keen on green veg? Add it to soups, casseroles or curries.
  • Herbs such as rosemary, sage, coriander, thyme and parsley are a great addition to soups or casseroles. Keep on your windowsill, while its cold outside.
  • Spices such as chilli and turmeric are also a great source of antioxidants and add warmth to omelettes and egg dishes.

For a big hit of antioxidants, soups are the perfect cold weather solution

Try these two recipes:

Red lentil and tomato soup  (serves 3-4)

The lycopene in cooked tomatoes is supportive of sperm health.

  • 1 tbsp coconut or olive oil
  • 1 large red onion
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tins tomatoes (or use 700g fresh tomatoes)
  • 200g red lentils
  • 2 vegetable stock cubes
  • Small bunch fresh parsley or coriander (optional)
  • Black pepper

Finely chop the red onion and garlic.
Heat the oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Cook the onion and garlic for 2-3 mins until lightly golden.
Add the cumin and mix thoroughly for 1 minute.
Add the tomatoes and cook over a medium heat.
Rinse the lentils well and add to the pan.
Make up the stock using 2 stock cubes and 1 litre of boiling water. Stir to combine well before adding half of the stock to the pan. Leave the lentils to cook until soft, about 15-20 mins, adding more stock, if required, to loosen the mixture in the pan.
Once the lentils are soft, add the remaining stock if a thinner soup is required and transfer in batches to a jug blender to process into a smooth soup.
To serve, add a few twists of ground black pepper and sprinkle with parsley or coriander.


Beany, broccoli soup  (serves 3)

This makes a great soup and is an easy way to get your greens in!

  • 300–400ml water, depending on how thick you like your soup
  • 1 head of broccoli
  • 200g spinach
  • 400g tin cannellini beans
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • Handful of coriander
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Salt and pepper

Chop the broccoli into small pieces.
Crush the garlic and place it in a frying pan with the cumin, salt, pepper and olive oil.
Sauté for a few minutes then add the broccoli and 2-3 tablespoons of water.
Cook until the broccoli is tender, then stir in the spinach and let that wilt.
Place the rinsed beans, lemon juice, coriander and salt into a blender with the water and broccoli and spinach mix.
Blend until smooth, then reheat and serve
Serve sprinkled with chilli flakes, or for crunch add toasted flaked almonds or mixed seeds.

antioxidants for sperm health

To do even more to reduce oxidative stress, consider these lifestyle choices too:

  • Portion sizes, studies have shown that eating too much increases oxidative stress.
  • Early morning light, by taking yourself outside in the morning light or if it’s just that little bit too chilly, sitting by a window, even in the cold, short winter months will boost your melatonin, not only essential for a restful night’s sleep but a potent antioxidant.
  • Reduce chemicals in the home – cleaning products, scented candles, air fresheners, cosmetics and toiletries may all contribute to oxidative stress.
  • Replace fast food as much as you can with home prepped food from unprocessed ingredients.
  • Regular exercise is associated with higher antioxidant levels and less oxidative stress. It can be hard to get up the motivation to get outside in winter, but if you’re wrapped up warmly, nothing beats a walk on a cold, sunny day.

Antioxidant supplements can also be very useful 

Research is suggestive of the benefits of vitamin C, E NAC, melatonin and CoQ10 for reproductive health.

  • Vitamin C is found in ovarian follicles and has been associated with higher quality embryos in women with endometriosis in particular.
  • Vitamin E is a fat-soluble antioxidant found in nuts, seeds and their oils and may support in unexplained fertility issues as well as being useful for supporting the uterine lining ready for embryo transfer.
  • NAC – is an antioxidant that maybe useful in PCOS and endometriosis.
  • Melatonin is actually a hormone that helps to regulate our sleep wake cycle. High levels are also found in ovarian follicles and has been shown to decrease with age. Higher melatonin levels are also associated with a greater number of eggs at egg retrieval and higher quality embryos.
  • CoQ10 is an important antioxidant too and in the context of egg quality supports mitochondrial function – tiny little powerhouses within the oocyte that produce the energy they need to mature. The form of CoQ10 is important – the form ubiquinone is poorly absorbed so ubiquinol formulations are preferable or those brands that have demonstrated improvements in egg quality (Pharma Nord)

For more support on improving your antioxidant status and reducing oxidative stress, book in for your complimentary nutrition and lifestyle consultation here

More information

Nutrition is the foundation to achieving a successful, healthy pregnancy and baby. Your nutrition, lifestyle, supplements, toxic exposure, exercise and activity, stress levels, relaxation and mindset can all impact your fertility.

Whether your fertility issues are unexplained or relate to an underlying condition such as Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis, coeliac disease, an underactive or overactive thyroid, Angela Attwood of Love Nutrition can support you with a plan to ensure you’re in the best nutritional health. Find out more

Related articles