The relationship between diet and sperm count
In a country like India, it is odd that we should have so many couples going to doctors complaining about their inability to have children. A number of men, predictably, put the blame on their wives. But when family pressure forces them to take tests, then it is usually the man who has a low sperm count. This is not God’s will, as the family priest would say. This could be a direct result of your diet.
Diet has a huge impact on sperm count and its quality. Diets high in meat and dairy are not just bad for waistlines, they have a negative impact below the waist. They lower sperm count, size, shape and concentration.
Advice from doctors, to men with fertility problems, ranges from stopping smoking, wearing looser underpants, keeping laptops away from laps and having less sex so that the sperm build up. But the most important part involves the GIGO principle: Garbage In, Garbage Out. The Director of the Men’s Health Clinic, Wake Forest University, Dr. Ryan Terlecki says that “We’ve noticed that fertility has been decreasing over the last several decades. Most men have never even heard that anything in their diet could impact sperm count.”
A large body of research suggests that the foods you pile on your plate may play a role in the number of sperm you have (count), whether they’re normally shaped (morphology), and how well they move (motility).
In 2006 a paper presented by Kochman, Herko, Brewer, Andolina and Song from the University of Rochester showed the link (“Dietary antioxidants and sperm quality in infertile men: Annual Scientific Meeting of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine”): Infertile men were twice as likely to have a low intake of fruits and vegetables compared with fertile men. Specifically: men with the lowest intake had lower sperm motility than men with higher intakes. Simply eating fruit and vegetables improved fertility. A 2011 Brazilian study found that men who ate more whole grains – such as wheat, oats, and barley – had higher sperm concentrations.
Three more studies published in Fertility and Sterility said the same thing and this time cheese and dairy products joined the semen destroying list. Whole milk may leave you with a fraction of the healthy sperm you should have. Young men who eat two servings of full-fat dairy — especially cheese and whole milk — per day tend to have fewer motile sperm, according to a 2013 study in Human Reproduction.
Studies have found that men who eat more fruits and vegetables have better sperm quality (Afeiche, Bridges, Williams et al. Dairy intake and semen quality among men attending a fertility clinic. 2014. Mendiola J, Torres-Cantero , Vioque, et al. A low intake of antioxidant nutrients is associated with poor semen quality in patients attending fertility clinics. Braga, Halpern, Figueira , Setti, Iaconelli, Borges. Food intake and social habits in male patients and its relationship to intracytoplasmic sperm injection outcomes.) A recent Harvard study found that increasing meat and dairy products by just 5 percent could lower the sperm count by 38 percent. (Attaman, Toth , Furtado, Campos, Hauser, Chavarro JE. Dietary fat and semen quality among men attending a fertility clinic. Hum Reprod..): In a 2014 Harvard study, men who consumed the most processed meat had 23 percent fewer normal sperm than guys who ate it sparingly. In another 2014 study, published in the journal Epidemiology, the same researchers found that eating processed meat was associated with lower sperm count.
The latest study of 99 sperm donors done by the Massachusetts General Hospital, Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School led by Dr. Jill Attaman, a reproductive endocrinologist at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, showed how diets influence sperm. Those with the highest saturated fat (from meat and dairy) had a 43% lower sperm count than those with the lowest intake. Reduction of fat in the diet not only improved general health but their reproductive ability.
Denmark ranks 185th in the birth rate out of 221 countries and its population is shrinking rapidly. But is it a conscious decision to stop having children or something else? A study, conducted by researchers at Rigshospitalet Copenhagen University National Hospital and published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, suggests that the reasons for the low birth rate may be the shrinking sperm counts in Danish men because of their diet.
701 young Danish men took part in the study giving diet information and sperm samples for military checkups. Researchers, led by Dr. Tina Jensen, found that men who consumed the most saturated fat – meat and cheese – had a 41% lower sperm concentration than men who ate less. Men who consumed 15% of their calories from saturated fat had a sperm concentration of 45 million per millilitre with a sperm count of 128 million, while those who got only 11% of their calories from saturated fat had a sperm concentration of 50 million per millilitre with a sperm count of 163 million. Eighteen percent of the men who ate the most saturated fat fell below the WHO’s definition of normal sperm concentration. A similar study in France, where diets are also high in meats and cheese, found that sperm concentrations have fallen from an average of 74 million per millilitre in 1989 to about 50 million in 2005.
Replacing meat with plant-based protein can reduce infertility risk in women, according to a study in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology. Simply put: a frequent consumption of meat leads to a decrease in successful pregnancy and fertilized egg implantation. Women who eat Heme iron are 40% more at risk for infertility than women who eat nonheme iron—the kind found in lentils and spinach (Chavarro JE, Rich-Edwards JW, Rosner BA, Willett WC. Iron intake and risk of ovulatory infertility. 2006).
Higher cholesterol levels caused by meat intake have been shown to prevent or delay pregnancy, according to a study by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. (Schisterman, Mumford, Browne, Barr, Chen, Louis. Lipid concentrations and couple fecundity: the LIFE study. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2014)
Studies have found falling sperm counts in many countries around the world with diets newly rich in saturated fats as a result of improving economies and the ready availability of fast foods.
Other lifestyle changes include eating organic. In a study presented at the 2014 American Society for Reproductive Medicine Annual Meeting, men who consumed the most pesticide residues, consistently in their food, had 64 percent fewer normal sperm and 70 percent fewer motile sperm than men who took in the least.
Drinking alcohol may have a negative impact on sperm concentration and motility, according to a 2012 Brazilian study of men seeking fertility treatments. A Danish study found even a modest but habitual alcohol intake may compromise sperm quality. A much better alternative is pomegranate juice. In a Turkish study, male rats given pomegranate juice on a daily basis experienced a boost in sperm count and motility. The purple juice is a rich source of antioxidants, like vitamin C, and although this was an animal study, other research has linked a high intake of antioxidants in men to better semen quality.
In a new Brazilian study of 189 healthy thin young men, published in Human Reproduction, regularly drinking sugar-sweetened drinks — slightly more than a serving per day — was linked to poorer sperm motility. If you need a shot of sugar, make it from fruit which, in the study, was positively related to sperm quality.
So, if you want to increase your chances of having children, eat your vegetables and fruit, specially lentils and spinach, and ditch the dairy and meat.
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