Antioxidants for TTC: Why and How?

Co-authored by Lauren Manaker and Rachelle Mallik

Upping your antioxidant intake is a common suggestion when men and women are trying to conceive.  Although we have found some studies that suggest that antioxidant intake plays little role in fertility, we have read more studies suggesting otherwise. 

What are antioxidants?  

An antioxidant is a component that is found naturally in many foods, particularly many fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, and legumes. Free radicals may attack important molecules in the body, resulting in damage, or oxidative stress. Antioxidants protect cells from the damage caused by these free radicals. Free radicals can come from external sources like smoking or pollutants; they may also come about naturally during normal bodily processes.  

One reason why many dietitians push intake of antioxidant-rich foods is because we want your body to have the ability to combat too much oxidative stress that may be occurring in the body. Oxidative stress may be negatively affecting sperm or eggs (among other factors).

Oxidative stress in females

Pregnancy complications such as spontaneous abortion, recurrent pregnancy loss, and preeclampsia can develop in response to oxidative stress. Studies have shown that extremes of body weight and lifestyle factors such as cigarette smoking, alcohol use, and recreational drug use can promote too much free radical production, which could affect fertility. Exposures to environmental pollutants are of increasing concern, as they too have been found to trigger oxidative states, possibly contributing to female infertility (1). 



Not to add stress to anybody feeling pressure from their ticking biological clock, but it is true that egg quality may decrease as a woman ages.  Studies have suggested that negative changes in the eggs of older women may occur from excessive oxidative stress (1).



Too much of oxidative stress may also play a major role both in the implantation and fertilization of eggs (1) and luteal regression (2).  Luteal regression may result in a lack of luteal support to a pregnancy (3). Oxidative stress can damage eggs in developing follicles, and embryo in fallopian tube (4). Oxidative stress can be overcome by reducing generation of oxidative stress or increasing the amounts of antioxidants available (4).


Oxidative Stress in Males


Oxidative stress has negative effects on sperm, including viability, shape, and function, and consequently reduces male fertility. 


While a small amount of oxidative stress is required for normal sperm functioning, too much negatively impacts the quality of sperm and negatively affects their overall fertilizing ability. Oxidative stress has been shown to play a role in sperm production in the following ways. It can (5):

·      attack DNA, lipids, and proteins in sperm

·      alter enzymatic systems

·      cause cell death

·      cause a decline in the semen measures associated with male infertility. 


Antioxidants essentially defend the body from oxidative damage, whether it occurs during sperm generation or other functioning of the body. They “neutralize” free radicals, thus preventing them from causing damage.


Antioxidant therapy has been a promising approach to improve the sperm quality and male fertility by reducing oxidative stress.


Examples of foods rich in antioxidants include but are not limited to:


·      many fruits and berries

·      many vegetables

·      whole grains

·      dark chocolate

·      nuts  

·      beans

·      certain teas such as green and black oolong


How do busy people get in enough antioxidants?


I am not going to suggest an antioxidant pill in this case. Your doctor or dietitian may have suggested supplemental antioxidants and I do not see any harm in trying that route in the short run. Getting antioxidants from food ensures you are getting what you are paying for, and that the quality is top-notch. In addition, eating certain foods will provide you with MORE than just antioxidants; components like fiber, natural vitamins, and phytonutrients will also benefit you health-wise. Making a point to get in antioxidants doesn’t mean having to eat salads twice a day or downing nasty green smoothies. Below are some simple ways to sneak in antioxidants throughout the day:



1. When making dishes with ground beef, toss some lentils or black beans in there!  Tacos, meatloaf, meat sauce, whatever! Many fellas are reluctant to give up meat, but if some lentils are snuck in there, they won’t even taste the difference and get a great boost of antioxidants!


2. Snack on popcorn instead of chips.  Popcorn is a natural source of antioxidants and is a fun snack that most people love.  If you are not a fan of popcorn pieces getting stuck in your teeth, try popping some sorghum!


Go for air-popped popcorn instead of making it in a microwavable bag.  Unless it is indicated otherwise, the bag may be coated with chemicals that you just do not want in your body RN.  Or….indulge in my favorite popcorn by Lesser Evil.


3. Toss a small baggie of mixed nuts and dried fruit in your bag for your afternoon commute.  I KNOW that some of y’all get hangry on your way home from work.  Noshing on a handful of nuts and dried fruit will help kick your hunger and will also give your body a variety of antioxidants.  This combo is great because it is portable and doesn’t have to be refrigerated.


Fellas, if you are trying this snack out, choose a mixture of almonds, hazelnuts, and walnuts to help support your fertility. 


4. Dip your berries in real dark chocolate. Dark chocolate has natural antioxidants and honestly tastes amazing.  I don’t think this one is a hard sell.  Just don’t go overboard with this one!


5. Try out some goji berries. These little berries are popping up all over the place and are honestly a nutrition powerhouse! 

Goji berries contain unique antioxidants that have been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease and cancer.  While there are no studies linking goji berry intake and fertility, it certainly won’t hurt your chances.  Sprinkle them on top of your smoothie or yogurt for a sweet addition. 

Just keep in mind that these little dried berries can be caloric and high in sugar, so watch your portion size!


6. If you are going out for cocktails, go for the Bloody Mary!  While I am not encouraging alcohol intake, reality is that many people do not abstain from drinking 100%. If you are still enjoying your adult beverages, a bloody mary is loaded with the antioxidant lycopene.  You can also ask for some extra fresh lime to squeeze into your cocktail for some additional Vitamin C! A virgin bloody Mary is a great option, too!


7. Sunday morning pancakes in the cards this weekend?  Sprinkle some beetroot powder in your batter (the one I linked to has collagen peptides in it by Humann…added bonus!). You will sneak in some vitamins (hello folic acid) as well as some hard-to-get antioxidants.  Added bonus: you get to enjoy some pretty pink pancakes instead of the boring-tan ones you are used to!  Try sprinkling some dark chocolate chips into your batter for some decadence AND more antioxidants!


8. Are you a French fry lover?  Us too.  Sweet potato fries are offered at so many restaurants these days, and IMO are tastier than the traditional version.  Sweet potatoes are loaded with healthy goodies and are a great choice if TTC.  Yes, they are fried and not the healthiest choice in the world.  But if a fry craving is calling your name, choosing the sweet potato version will give you some much needed nutrients.  You can always make them at home and bake ‘em too!


9. If you are having a pizza or pasta night, ask for some extra tomato-based sauce!  The tomatoes are loaded with the healthy lycopene antioxidant, as well as other vitamins like Vitamin C. 


10. If you are a baker, sprinkle some milled flax seeds into your creations.  I literally sprinkle the Manitoba Milling flax into everything that I bake and you can’t taste the difference.  I will also add some to my meatloaf or meatballs! 

11. Swap out your soda with antioxidant-rich sparkling maple water. Drink Simple makes an amazing beverage that is naturally sweet because it is made from the sap that comes from maple trees. Did you know that maple water is loaded with natural antioxidants? You do now! Use code friendsofnutritionnow for 15% off.


There you have it. Eleven easy ways to sneak in some antioxidants into your diet.I hope this helps you during your ttc journey without adding one more supplement to your list!