My husband has become a late-night fan of the health channel. He won’t admit it to anyone, but when he curls up in bed at night and reviews the list of DVR shows, it is not sports commentary or crime dramas he has to choose from. Rather, it is a collection of health specials and documentaries chronicling various research studies.

A few nights ago we both got pulled in to a show about male infertility and the treatments proving surprisingly effective for couples. Because we still live in a society that tends to blame women for infertility, assuming they must be “barren” if they do not get pregnant, it was fascinating to see the other side. The show discussed several different experimental approaches to treating male infertility, but the one I found the most interesting was garlic. Could eating a lot of Italian food really be the solution to not conceiving?

Recent studies have indicated that many instances of male infertility are caused by oxidative stress. This condition occurs when potentially harmful ROS, reactive oxygen species, are produced at a rate too rapid for the body’s natural antioxidant defenses to keep up. This results in the cellular damage seen in around half of all men considered infertile.

Defined as peroxides, oxygen ions, and free radicals, ROS are generated by the seminal leukocytes and sperm within semen. The resulting oxidative stress leads to infertility in two manners. First, the reactive oxygen species cause damage to the sperm membrane and decrease both the sperm’s motility and its ability to properly fertilize the oocyte. The second manner ROS leads to infertility is by altering the DNA within the sperm. This DNA alteration causes defective paternal DNA to be transferred to the resulting “conceptus.” When this happens, the woman’s body recognizes the alteration and identifies the earliest-stage embryo as non-viable, spontaneously aborting it before it can develop.

While there are some medical ways men can treat the oxidative stress in their bodies, studies have indicated dietary changes may be the most effective approach. Garlic, a powerful natural antioxidant, has proven particularly effective in treating male infertility by preventing cellular damage caused by ROS. When consumed in the raw or oil form, garlic helps the body keep up with the production of ROS and boosts natural antioxidant production to protect the sperm cells from damage and DNA alteration. Men struggling with infertility are encouraged to consume the equivalent of four cloves of garlic per day to help reestablish a healthy balance in their bodies to increase their chances of producing a baby.

Source: Oxidative stress and male infertility—a clinical perspective. Human Reproduction Update, Volume 14, Issue 3, pp 243-258.