Listen up, gentlemen! As if heart problems and obesity weren’t enough of a deterrent, a high-fat diet has also now been linked with a lower sperm count.
In a study published online in the March 13 issue of Human Reproduction, men on high-fat diets had a 43% lower total sperm count and a 38% lower sperm concentration than men on low-fat diets. These results could have a wide-ranging impact, considering America’s high obesity rate and the fact that male infertility affects 10% to 15% of couples, according to NPR.
Researchers surveyed 99 American men in their mid-30s who were participating in fertility research at the Massachusetts General Hospital Fertility Center. The study examined the men’s reported diet habits, lifestyle and health history, and analyzed their sperm samples. The men were categorized into three groups based on their fat consumption, and researchers compared and contrasted the groups’ total sperm count (meaning the total number of sperm in the ejaculate) and the sperm concentration (the amount of sperm per milliliter).
The results indicated that saturated fat appeared to be the most significant factor in sperm quality and quantity. According to Scientific American, sperm count dropped by 18% with every extra 5% of a man’s diet that was made up of fat. For every 5% increase in saturated fat in particular, the sperm count fell by 38%.
The study did produce some good news, though: According to CBS, the men who consumed the most omega-3 fatty acids — the “good” fats found in fatty fish, certain oils and some nuts — had almost 2% more sperm than the men who consumed the least. Omega-3s are associated with a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia, and most recently memory. (Click here to find about the impact of omega-3 consumption on memory.)
“It is common sense to recommend that men adopt a [healthy] diet. If this should also improve their sperm concentration and quality, then it is icing on the cake,” said Dr. Richard Sharpe of the Medical Research Council’s Human Reproductive Sciences Unit at the University of Edinburgh.
Why it’s not written in stone yet:
While men should be aiming for a healthy diet anyway, more research is needed to support the results found in this study since it’s the first linking dietary fat and semen quality. And it’s important to note that this is just that — a link — not a causal relationship. Other factors could have played a role in the results. Seventy-one percent of the participants were overweight or obese, and the weight itself could have had an effect on semen. Researchers are already planning to further investigate this association.
Strong sperm stats
Diet isn’t the first factor to be associated with sperm count. Tobacco, drugs, alcohol and excessive heat have also been linked to fewer sperm.
According to the World Health Organization, normal total sperm count should be around 39 million, and a normal sperm concentration should be at least 15 million per milliliter. According to MayoClinic, men are more likely to be fertile if more than 4% of sperm have a normal shape and structure.