A low intake of dietary antioxidants correlates with poor sperm motility, research shows. The finding led the investigators to conclude that eating more fruits and vegetables might improve male fertility.

“I was somewhat surprised by the strength of the correlation,” said lead investigator Vivian Lewis, MD, professor of obstetrics/gynecology at the University of Rochester in New York. She presented the findings at the recent American Society of Reproductive Medicine meeting in New Orleans.

It is theorized that dietary antioxidants increase sperm motility and lessen DNA damage, but clinical trials of vitamin C and E supplements have yielded inconsistent findings. Dr. Lewis and her colleagues recruited 48 men with abnormal semen parameters whose partners had been trying to conceive for more than a year. Ten men with normal semen analyses who had recently fathered a fetus served as the study controls.

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The proportion of men who consumed fewer than five servings a day of fruits and vegetables was twice as high among the infertile group compared with controls—80% vs. 40%. The mean intake of vitamin C was also lower among the infertile men compared with controls (104 vs.152 mg a day), and the proportion of men with vitamin C intake below the recommended dietary allowance was greater among the infertile men as well (48% vs. 20%). There were no differences in vitamin E or selenium intake.

The researchers also found that overall, men with the lowest intake of dietary antioxidants had lower sperm count and motility.