Oxidative Stress in
Female Infertility: The Link

Oxidative stress in female infertility is not to be taken lightly.

Oxidative stress has been found to be a major player in some disturbances in conception process. It has been found to effect sperm quality for males. And it is also has been found to play a role in ovarian function and other female reproductive organs.

Oxidative stress and the follicle

The ovaries contain follicles which houses the eggs, one of which could be fertilized by a sperm and become a baby. Each follicle contains one immature egg in the center.

In each menstrual cycle, about 10-20 of the ovaries' thousands of follicles begin to mature an egg. Most of the time, though, only one of these eggs mature fully. And that single egg must be fertilized by a sperm in order for fertilization to occur.

A study by Paszkowski, et al showed that low concentrations of glutathione peroxidase (GPx) in the follicle may affect the fertilizing ability of the egg cell.

Glutathione peroxidase is one of the body's most important enzyme antioxidants. Reduced levels of GPx is significantly associated with low fertilization rates.

This study therefore showed that oxidative stress, marked by low levels of the glutathione peroxidase enzyme, can cause low fertilization rates.

Oxidative stress in Female Infertility: Endometriosis

Endometriosis is a condition where the endometrium, the tissue that lines the uterus, grows somewhere else it's not supposed to. Most often, this tissue grows on the ovaries, fallopian tubes, lining of the pelvic cavity and the outer surface of the uterus.

Studies have found that women with this condition have activated macrophages in the peritoneal fluid. Macrophages are immobile mononuclear cells that engulfs or absorbs harmful microorganisms or other foreign bodies.

When macrophages are activated, they become larger, more motile, and have increased phagocytic activity to kill or suppress anything that harms the body.

The peritoneal fluid is found between membranes in the abdominal area. Endometriosis patients show activated macrophages in this area. This means there is a lot of oxidative stress going on.

Furthermore, these same patients have elevated levels of lipid peroxidation. This indicates high free radical activity.

Therefore, oxidative stress is definitely present in women with endometriosis.

Oxidative stress and Unexplained infertility

A study by Wang et.al. (1997) found high levels of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in women with idiopathic or unexplained infertility.

Meanwhile, Polak et. al found that the antioxidant levels of patients with unexplained infertility were significantly lower than those in fertile women.

Moreover, women with idiopathic infertility have increased ROS-induced lipid peroxidation, a free radical activity.

These conclusions show that high levels of free radical activity and low levels of antioxidants may suppress female fertility.

Oxidative stress and Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)

Women with PCOS usually have insulin resistance. A study by Gonzales et. al showed that oxidative stress may contribute to insulin resistance with these women.

There has been some recent evidence that women with this disorder have lower levels of glutathione, a powerful antioxidant. Click here to see the abstract of this study by Tabuncu et. al.

Oxidative stress in female infertility, in general, are observed in the following physiological processes:

  • Oocyte (egg cell) maturation
  • Ovarian steroidogenesis
  • Ovulation
  • Implantation
  • Formation of blastocysts
  • Luteolysis
  • Luteal maintenace in pregnancy

Check out these studies:

Gupta, et. al, Oxidative Stress and its Role in female Infertility and Assisted Reproduction: Clinical Implications. Royal Institute Journal of Fertility and Sterility. Vol.2 No.4, Feb-Mar 2009, pp.147-164. Janu. 13, 2010.

Agarwal et. al. Oxidative stress and its implications in female infertility - a clinician's perspective. Reproductive Biomed Online. 2005; 11:641-650. Jan 13, 2010.

There are growing studies on the effect of oxidative stress in female infertility. These studies point that antioxidants may be of help in increasing the chances of fertilization.

If you or your partner have fertility problems, it is recommended to increase your antioxidant levels especially Vitamin C and glutathione.

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