Women seeking treatment for infertility sometimes take dietary supplements and antioxidants -- vitamin C, vitamin E, melatonin, or combination supplements, among others -- in the hopes of boosting fertility. But the new Cochrane review, published Sunday, found little evidence supporting efficacy of the supplements.
"I don't think the results were surprising in the sense that there are no national organizations or guidelines that recommend routine use of antioxidant supplements for fertility," said Dr. Wendy Vitek, head of the fertility preservation program at the University of Rochester's Strong Fertility Center, who did not work on the new review.
"But I definitely have women ask me about supplements," Vitek said. "I think there are a lot of feelings of self-blame with infertility, and women are looking to gain some sense of being proactive and of potentially controlling a very uncontrollable situation."
Antioxidants, found in many fruits and vegetables, can also be taken in pill form. Antioxidants can help reduce oxidative stress, which occurs when free radicals damage cells and their ability to function. According to background provided in the Cochrane review, oxidative stress can be brought on by many of the same conditions that contribute to infertility, such as ovulatory disorders and endometriosis.
"It is thought that the free radical 'scavenging' effects of antioxidants would help to repair any oxidative stress occurring in the female reproductive process," lead researcher Marian Showell, with the University of Auckland's department of obstetrics and gynecology, told The Huffington Post. "This has not been disproven by this review. We just didn't have high enough quality evidence to prove or disprove it."
All told, the studies included in the review included more than 3,500 women who were attending fertility clinics.
Image: Woman taking vitamins, via Shutterstock