19/01/2011 13:05 GMT | Updated 22/05/2015 10:12 BST

Antioxidants May Make You Less Fertile

pregnant-woman-eating-pickles Female fertility may be harmed by the action of antioxidants. Photo: Getty, Jamie Grill

You couldn't blame anyone for being enthusiastic about antioxidants. After all the mighty plant nutrients are thought to be good for you in many ways, with some experts believing they may even slow down the ageing process owing to the way they combat potentially harmful substances made in the body called free radicals.

So no wonder we actively seek out foods that contain more of them, not to mention use skin creams that contain them and take supplements that boost our levels of them. But antioxidants may not be the super-healthy substances we think they are. At least that's according to scientists from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel.

The researchers' study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, suggests antioxidants may cause fertility problems in women. In their tests on female mice, the experts noticed that after applying antioxidants to the mice's ovaries, their ovulation levels dropped significantly.

After further tests, it turns out that the process of ovulation - that is, when your ovaries release an egg - may actually require the presence of free radicals, the very substances destroyed by antioxidants.

The effect of antioxidants on ovulation was such that the researchers claim future contraception could be antioxidant-based, rather than hormone-based.

Elsewhere, however, researchers from New Zealand suggest antioxidants may have the opposite effect in men. A study published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews claims women whose partners took antioxidant supplements were more than four times more likely to get pregnant than those whose partners took a dummy pill.

Do you take antioxidant supplements, and if so, why?

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