Oxidative costs of reproduction: Oxidative stress in mice fed standard and low antioxidant diets

L M Vaanholt, A Milne, Y Zheng, C Hambly, Sharon Elizabeth Mitchell, T G Valencak, D B Allison, J R Speakman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Lactation is one of the most energetically expensive behaviours, and trade-offs may exist between the energy devoted to it and somatic maintenance, including protection against oxidative damage. However, conflicting data exist for the effects of reproduction on oxidative stress. In the wild, a positive relationship is often observed, but in laboratory studies oxidative damage is often lower in lactating than in non-breeding animals. We hypothesised that this discrepancy may exist because during lactation food intake increases many-fold resulting in a large increase in the intake of dietary antioxidants which are typically high in laboratory rodent chow where they are added as a preservative. We supplied lactating and non-breeding control mice with either a standard or low antioxidant diet and studied how this affected the activity of endogenous antioxidants (catalase, superoxide dismutase; SOD, and glutathione peroxidise; GPx) and oxidative damage to proteins (protein carbonyls, PC) in liver and brain tissue. The low antioxidant diet did not significantly affect activities of antioxidant enzymes in brain or liver, and generally did not result in increased protein damage, except in livers of control mice on low antioxidant diet. Catalase activity, but not GPx or SOD, was decreased in both control and lactating mice on the low antioxidant diet. Lactating mice had significantly reduced oxidative damage to both liver and brain compared to control mice, independent of the diet they were given. In conclusion, antioxidant content of the diet did not affect oxidative stress in control or reproductive mice, and cannot explain the previously observed reduction in oxidative stress in lactating mammals studied in the laboratory. The reduced oxidative stress in the livers of lactating mice even under low antioxidant diet treatment was consistent with the 'shielding' hypothesis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-7
Number of pages7
JournalPhysiology and Behavior
Early online date10 Nov 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2016

Bibliographical note

We would like to thank the animal house staff, Gavin Morrison and Jennifer Long who did all the work with the controls on standard diets and helped with dissections. Supported in part by the US National Institute of Health grants R01AG043972 to JRS and DBA and P30AG050886 and P30DK056336 to DBA. The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the NIH or any other organization.


  • Endogenous antioxidants
  • lactation
  • oxidative damage


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