Antioxidants and sperm quality in Poultry: soldiers at work

By Bart Molenaers
Also read: What are free radicals (available on

In breeders, fertility is one of the most important (if not the most important) attributes to ensure profitability. Fertility percentages will dictate the profitability of the hens. Infertility is a major economic factor for the sector. A decrease in fertility is thought to be mainly an age-related problem in cockerels (Khan, 2011; Kazemizadeh et al., 2019).

Figure 1: chicken semen (Santiago-Moreno, J.; 2015)

There are several factors which induce a decrease in sperm quality, such as a dysfunction in Sertoli cells, which play a role in production of sperm, weight gain of the roosters, a reduced sperm concentration, a lower testosterone level and a declined total antioxidant capacity of semen, which all contribute to a decrease fertility rate in aged roosters (Kahn, 2011; Kazemizadeh et al.; 2019; Ansari et al.; 2017; Borghei-Rad et al., 2017).
The plasma membrane of sperm cells consist out of a very high concentration poly-unsaturated fatty acids (PUFA’s). Most of those lipids belong to the omega-6 fatty acids (figure 2) Those lipids are involved in a series of internal processes which all influence fertility. They, for example, play a role in different stages of sperm maturation, capacitation and acrosome reaction, all important processes in fertilization (Khan, 2011; Kelso et al., 1996). The high concentration of PUFA’s in sperm cells indicate that sperm membranes need to have a high fluidity and flexibility to be motile and to fuse with the egg cell.

Figure 2. while normal red blood cells (RBCs) have a concentration of less than 60% PUFA’s in their membrane, the sperm cell membrane has a concentration of PUFA’s higher than 80%. This, in combination with a high concentration of free radicals (also produced by the mitochondria in the sperm cells), makes them very vulnerable for free radical attacks.

This high concentration of PUFA’s makes the sperm cells very vulnerable for free radical attacks, especially by reactive oxygen species (ROS). An example of such ROS is hydrogen peroxide. High levels of hydrogen peroxide will result in lipid degeneration (peroxidation) and ultimately cell death.
More information about free radicals and ROS can be found on “what are free radicals?” available on

Antioxidants, the “soldiers” to protect sperm cells
Living creatures have their own system to keep the free radical concentration in balance. They produce antioxidants, molecules which are able to neutralize free radicals without inducing damage. Vitamin C and vitamin E are examples of those antioxidants. However, whenever the body is in unbalance (stress, disease, high production status or old age), the concentration of antioxidants, produced by the body, will not be sufficient to cope with all the free radicals and the body will come in unbalance. 
In terms of sperm quality, it has been shown that the fertility rate in roosters reaches a maximum around 37 weeks of age and decreases after week 45-50 (Leeson & Summers; 2010). With aging, the production of antioxidants decreases inside the body, while the production of ROS increases (Kelso et al., 1996). An extra addition is therefore needed when the rooster ages. We make a summary of some very promising antioxidants.

Vitamin E
Vitamin E is one of the main antioxidants concerning fertility. Vitamin E attacks free radicals and reacts with them, producing ROOH groups, which are not harmful anymore. Lin et al. (2005) showed that a dietary increase in the vitamin E content of semen resulted in a significant reduction of lipid peroxidation of the semen, and therefore resulting in better semen quality. Age related decrease of the fertility in roosters is associated with a decreased level of vitamin E in the testes (Surai et al. 1997, Khan, 2011).
A summary of all the effects of vitamin E on fertility can be seen in figure 3.
Figure 3: the effect of vitamin E deficiency on fertility traits in poultry

Selenium is not a vitamin, it is a trace element. This trace element has many important roles in the body, one of them is an antioxidant function. Selenium can work as an antioxidant through its role as a component of the enzyme glutathione peroxidase. It helps in protecting and stabilising the sperm cell membrane (Khan, 2011). Dimitrove et al. (2007) showed that selenium-supplemented sperm had better characteristics of storage, sperm motility and slow release of total lipids and phospholipids from spermatozoa to seminal plasma during storage.

Vitamin C
Everybody knows vitamin c as an antioxidant which protect the animal during heat stress. This antioxidant can be synthesized by the animal itself and will be sufficient in normal conditions. However, physiological stressors like heat, disease or overcrowding may augment the poultry requirement for vitamin C (Nockels, 1984).
There are some studies which indicate that vitamin C can be helpful in maintaining a good fertility level, especially during heat stress (Mc Daniel et al., 1998, McDaniel et al., 1995). The exact mechanism however is not known

Curcuma, or turmeric (curcuma longa) is a member of the ginger family (Zingiberaceae) and is a great source of a specific type of antioxidants: the phenolic compounds called curcuminoids.
It is believed that curcuma has great anti-inflammatory effects. The protective effects of curcumin on lipid peroxidation by scavenging radicals have been well documented (Kazemizadeh et al., 2019)
Figure 4: curcuma longa

There are many studies which indicate a beneficial effect of curcuma on meat quality and liver health of the birds, but there is also a particular interest for its fertility enhancing effects. In a test of Kazemizadeh et al. (2019), there were clear improvements in semen concentration and plasma membrane functionality after treatment with curcuma for 4 weeks.
Due to its structural form, curcumin, one of the phenols, has a strong scavenging capacity for free radicals as superoxide radicals, hydrogen peroxide, reducing iron complexes, as also a reduction in lipid peroxidation (Kazemizadeh et al., 2019).
Furthermore, curcumin is also associated with improved semen concentration and production of sperm with normal morphology ( Kazemizadeh et al., 2019). So, as you can see, curcuma, is not only good for liver health, but certainly plays its role in sperm quality too!


Mercordi has a wide range of products containing the ingredients listed here. Some will be mentioned here, do not hesitate to contact us for further information.

Infinite VH®: ingredients include Vitamin E, Selenium and curcuma!

MercoselenE®: when an extra dosage of vitamin E and Selenium is needed!

C.Power® HC: When you need a stable vitamin C source!

Ansari, M.; Zhandi, M.; Kohram, H.; Zaghari, M.; Sadeghi, M.; Gholami, M.; Deldar, H.; Di Fiore, M.M. & Benson, A.P. (2018). Aspartate amends reproductive performance of aged roosters by changing gene expression and testicular histology. Reproduction, Fertility and development, 30: 1038-1048.
Borghei-Rad, S.M.; Zeinoaldini, S.; Zhandi, M.; Moravej, H. & Ansari, M. (2017). Feeding rosemary leaves powder ameliorates rooster age-related subfertility. Theriogenology, 101: 35-43.
Dimitrove, S.G.; Atanasove, V.K.; surai, P.F. & Denev, S.A. (2007). Effect of organic selenium on turkey semen quality during liquid storage. Animal reproduction Science, 100: 311-317.
Kahn, R.H. (2011). Antioxidants and poultry semen quality. World’s Poultry Science Journal, 67: 297-308.
Kazemizadeh, A.; Zare Shahneh, A.; Zeinoaldini, S.; Yousefi, A.R.; Mehrabani, Y.; Pirsaraei, A. & Akhlaghi, A.(2019). Effects of dietary curcumin supplementation on seminal quality indices and fertility rate in broiler breeder roosters. Britisch poultry science (
Kelso, K.A.; Ceroli, S.; Noble, R.C.; sparks, NH.C. ; Speake, B.K. (1996). Lipid and antioxidant changes in semen of broiler fowl from 25 to 60 weeks of age.
Leeson, S. & Summers, J.D. (2010). Broiler breeder production ( Nottingham, University Press).
Lin, Y.F.; Chang, S.J.; Yang, J.R.; Lee, Y.P. and HSU, A.L. (2005). Effects of supplemental vitamin E during the mature period on the reproduction performance of Taiwan native chicken cockerels. British Poultry Science, 46: 366-373.
McDaniel, C.D.; Bramwell, R.K. & Howarth, B.J. (1995). Fertility of male and female broiler breeders following exposure to an elevated environmental temperature. Poultry Science, 74:1029-1038.
McDaniel, C.D. Hannah, J?L?; Parker, H.M.; Smith, T.W.; Schultz, C.D. & Zumwalt, C.D. (1998). Use of a sperm quality analyser for evaluating broiler breeder males: effects of altering sperm quality and quantity on the sperm motility index. Poultry Science, 77: 888-893.
Nockels, C.F. (1984). Effects of ascorbic acid on chicken metabolism , in: Wegger, I., Tagwerkerk, F.J. & Moustgaard, J. ( Eds) Ascorbic acid in domestic animals ( Royal Danish Agricultural society Copenhagen).
Santiago-Moreno, J (2015). Post-Coital sperm competence in Polygamous animals: The role of sperm traits in Species? Specific strategies.
Surai, P.F.; Kutz, E.; Wishart, G.; Noble, R.C.& Speake, B.K. (1997). The relationship between the dietary provision of a-tocopherol and the concentration of the vitamin in the semen of chicken: effects on lipid composition and susceptibility to peroxidation. Journal of Reproduction and Fertility,110: 47-51/
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Mercordi Animal Care : Antioxidants and sperm quality in Poultry: soldiers at work
Antioxidants and sperm quality in Poultry: soldiers at work
Mercordi Animal Care
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