Varicocele is commonly associated with male infertility because it impairs normal sperm morphology and activity. Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) are important determinants of sperm cell structure and function, but their relationship with varicocele remains unclear.

The aim of the present study was to investigate the PUFA composition in spermatozoa of infertile men with varicocele and to evaluate the potential relationship between PUFA and varicocele.

This case control study recruited 92 infertile men with varicocele, 99 infertile men without varicocele and 95 fertile male control subjects. Semen morphology and activity parameters were assessed and seminal plasma 8-hydroxy-2-deoxyguanosine (8-OHdG) content was determined by ELISA. Sperm concentrations of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids were measured by gas chromatography.

Infertile men with varicocele had lower concentrations of omega-3 PUFA, higher omega-6:omega-3 PUFA ratios and greater oxidative DNA damage in spermatozoa compared with infertile men without varicocele and normal subjects. The degree of varicocele and DNA damage was associated with decreased omega-3 PUFA concentrations and semen quality in infertile men with varicocele.

The findings suggest that omega-3 PUFA deficiency could be implicated in varicocele-associated infertility, and highlight the need for intervention trials to test the usefulness of omega-3 supplementation in reducing sperm abnormalities in infertile men with varicocele.