Until a few decades ago, sexual health was rarely a topic of public discussion in some parts of the world. While this subject remains a taboo even today in some places, one cannot ignore its importance in an individual’s well-being and overall health. Many factors may lead to sexual health issues, stress being one of them – stress caused by external factors and oxidative stress resulting from oxidation within the body.
What is Oxidative Stress?
Oxidative stress (OS) is an imbalance between pro-oxidants or free radicals — Reactive Oxygen species (ROS) and Reactive Nitrogen species (NOS) — and antioxidants that defend and neutralise these free radicals. It is a disturbance in the biological equilibrium at the intracellular level, a chemical process wherein the excessive formation of free radicals results from the insufficient amount and counteractivity of antioxidant response.
What are the causes of oxidative stress?
Lifestyle, diet, certain pre-existing conditions, and external factors such as pollution and radiation cause oxidative stress. Sometimes, OS can be temporarily triggered by the body’s immunity responses. OS of this form can cause inflammation due to infection or injury that may alleviate due to immunity responses.
The oxidation process is necessary to sustain various biological functions of the body, which could be as simple as respiration or as complex as digestion. Oxidative stress is an essential biological mechanism, but uncontrolled, long-term or excessive OS is harmful, even dangerous. The prolonged overproduction of ROS can damage biomolecules, impair cellular signaling, fragment DNA and even prove fatal.
Long-term oxidative stress can speed the ageing process, lead to neurodegenerative diseases such as alzheimer’s disease and several other conditions such as diabetes, arthritis, cancer, asthma, heart failure such as cardiovascular disease such as high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, and last but not least, infertility and other sexual dysfunction.
We have already established how chronic OS also impacts the central nervous system through some of our previous articles. Today, our team at Helvetica Health Care (HHC) focuses on the effects of oxidative stress on the sexual health of both men and women.
How does Oxidative Stress impact on the sexual health of men and women?
Chronic OS can lead to sexual health complications in men and have serious implications on the functioning of the female reproductive system. We tell you all about them below.
How does oxidative stress impact the sexual health of men?
Lower Sperm Function
Cells like sperm require high energy to travel through the female reproductive tract to fertilise the eggs. High levels of oxidative stress prevent mitochondria from producing energy efficiently, which can negatively affect sperm quality and lead to reduced sperm motility, altered sperm morphology, and increased DNA damage in sperm. All of the above can result in male infertility or subfertility.
When a male is unable to maintain a penile erection for an adequate time (for a satisfactory sexual performance), he may be experiencing erectile dysfunction (ED). Studies show that oxidative stress plays a major role in advancing erectile dysfunction. Oxidative stress can harm blood vessels and compromise the endothelium’s ability to perform its role. In the context of erectile function, this can reduce blood flow to the penis, contributing to ED.
How does oxidative stress impact the sexual health of women?
OS can affect the female reproductive functions in several ways. Endometriosis, preeclampsia, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and unexplained infertility are some of the most common conditions among women who suffer from long-term oxidative stress. Furthermore, women are likely to experience pregnancy problems such as hypertension, recurrent pregnancy loss and spontaneous abortion in response to high levels of OS. Below, we list down other serious outcomes from OS.
Damage in ovarian follicles
Oocytes and spermatozoa may experience direct damage in ovarian follicles, resulting from an environment of OS in the peritoneal cavity. In some cases, OS can incite apoptosis, promoting embryo fragmentation, implantation failure, abortion, or congenital abnormalities in offspring, even during fertilisation.
Prevent embryo development
Oxidative disturbance in the fallopian tubes can impact the embryo. ROS-antioxidant imbalance in the female reproductive tract can alter and damage the endometrium, which promotes embryo development. OS is also implicated in defecting a pregnancy in progress, causing insufficient luteal hormonal support and luteal regression.
Problems during menopause
Women experience a decline in oestrogen levels during menopause, which can increase the susceptibility to oxidative stress. Oxidative stress during menopause may contribute to vaginal dryness, irritation, and discomfort during intercourse.
Oxidative stress can harm female reproductive health, affecting egg quality and fertilisation. High levels of oxidative stress can also lead to implantation issues during pregnancy.
Sexual Desire and Satisfaction
Chronic oxidative stress may lead to fatigue, mood disturbances, and hormonal imbalances that can affect sexual desire and overall sexual satisfaction in women.
Today, we know a lot of oxidative stress and its harmful effects if left untreated. However, its role in erectile dysfunction still warrants a more comprehensive investigation. Although, the studies conducted in diabetic animal models so far show a significant link between the overproduction of ROS and erectile dysfunction.
While studies have shown inconsistent results in identifying OS markers for all reproductive problems, OS is unquestionably a worry regarding infertility and reproductive disease. Supplemental antioxidants may be able to solve infertility-related issues.
But until now, investigations have only been carried out on animals or in vitro, frequently producing unpredictable results. It will be necessary to conduct additional human randomised controlled clinical trials to ascertain the precise mechanism by which OS affects the ability to conceive and to further investigate the potential benefits of antioxidants as a fertility medication.
At Helvetica Health Care, we aim to provide efficient testing and diagnostics products that enhance lab research capabilities to detect OS biomarkers. Our range of OXIDATIVE STRESS assay kits and standards is designed to assist in exploring oxidative stress markers and metabolites in human and animal samples and samples exposed to drugs and foods.
The TBARS (Thiobarbituric Acid Reactive Substances) assay has become the assay of choice for screening and monitoring lipid peroxidation, a primary indicator of oxidative stress. The assay can be used with many types of samples, including drugs, food products and material of human and animal origin, and provides standardised and reproducible results.
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