Influence of ejaculatory abstinence on seminal total antioxidant capacity and sperm membrane lipid peroxidation

A single day of ejaculatory abstinence (EA) compared with 4 days of EA increased seminal total antioxidant capacity without a measurable effect on sperm membrane lipid peroxidation.

Paul Marshburn, M.D., Allie Giddings, M.D., Stephanie Causby, M.Sc., Michelle L. Matthews, M.D., Rebecca S. Usadi, M.D., Nury Steuerwald, Ph.D., Bradley S. Hurst, M.D.

Volume 102, Issue 3, Pages 705-710


To determine whether the period of ejaculatory abstinence (EA) influences the total antioxidant capacity (TAC) of semen or lipid peroxidation (LPO) of sperm membranes.

A prospective experimental trial.

Academic medical center for reproductive endocrinology and infertility.

Forty men from infertile couples planning intrauterine insemination.

Men provided semen specimens after EA periods of 1 and 4 days.

Main Outcome Measure(s):
Semen analysis, peroxidase staining, and assays for seminal TAC and sperm membrane LPO, with measures compared between days 1 and 4 within individuals (internal control) using paired t tests.

The shorter period of EA (1 day vs. 4 days) resulted in statistically significant decreases in semen volume (−24%), sperm density (−28%), and total sperm count (−3.2%). There was a statistically significant increase in TAC with the shorter period of EA (1 day) compared with 4 days of EA. No difference was detected in sperm membrane LPO comparing 1 day of EA and 4 days of EA.

Higher seminal TAC obtained after a shorter period of EA could diminish oxidative stress–induced sperm damage by a mechanism independent of LPO. Shorter periods of EA may thus improve sperm quality by protecting from reactive oxygen species damage, even though lower numbers of motile sperm are produced after a shorter period of EA. This would be consistent with prior research indicating improved results after intrauterine insemination under these circumstances.

  • Interesting study. Wish ROS could have been measured along with TAC to get a ratio. This would make this study that much more compelling. However, that being said, I look forward to seeing future studies trying to elucidate the missing factors that we currently cannot discern about why IUI pregnancy rates improved with shorter EA period <4 days despite decreased concentration, motility. Wonder if semen proteomics could identify the X factor? I wonder if these parameters can be improved if men are on antioxidants?

    • Paul Marshburn

      The points make by this commentary are interesting. The prospect of using proteomics would provide insight into changes in the seminal protein profile after differing periods of ejaculatory abstinence. The use of antioxidant therapy (such as vitamin E and C) to improve total antioxidant capacity in men with elevated reactive oxygen species would be a strategy to improve sperm function. Precaution is given, however, because over replacement with antioxidant vitamin therapy may impair the process of the acrosome reaction of sperm. The commercial availability of a kit that could measure the level of seminal reactive oxygen species would be helpful for targeting such therapy.

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