Approximately 15 percent of all couples experience fertility problems and male fertility issues play a role in 50 percent of these cases. Aging, as well as a vast array of substances and health disorders can cause or contribute to male infertility and some of the most common causes include: testicular damage, hormone imbalances, psychosocial problems, prolonged drug use, alcohol abuse, over exercising, anabolic steroid use, exposure to environmental toxins, malnutrition and stress. An unhealthy diet and lifestyle can also reduce a man’s sexual stamina and contribute to male infertility and a lack of both vitamin C and zinc have both been linked to reduced sperm count and infertility. According to a recent study published in the journal of Human Reproduction (March 14th, 2012), the amount and type of fatty foods consumed, also plays an important role in determining semen count and quality.
The 4 year long study, involved a collaboration between Jill Attaman, (Clinical and Research Fellow in Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility at Massachusetts General Hospital and an Instructor in Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Biology at Harvard Medical School at the time of the research), and her colleagues. The researchers analyzed semen samples of 99 men and had the men fill out questionnaires regarding their diets; they also measured seminal plasma and fatty acid levels in the sperm of 23 of the 99 men. The men were divided into three separate groups, based upon the amount of fat that they consumed.
How Diet Can Impact Fertility
The men in the group with the highest fat intake had a 43% lower total sperm count and a 38% lower sperm concentration than the men in the group with the lowest dietary fat intake. Total sperm count is the term used to describe the total number of sperm present in ejaculation, while sperm concentration is used to describe the concentration of sperm per unit volume.
A diet high in saturated fat can clog the arteries and impede blood flow, and some hypothesize that this can lead to decreased sexual stamina and infertility. According to this study, the consumption of saturated fat does indeed contribute to infertility. In fact, the researchers found that the amount of saturated fats consumed had the biggest influence on overall semen quality. More specifically, the men with the highest consumption of saturated fats had a 35% lower total sperm count and a 38% lower sperm concentration, then the men who consumed the least. “The magnitude of the association is quite dramatic and provides further support for the health efforts to limit consumption of saturated fat given their relation with other health outcomes such as cardiovascular disease,” stated Professor Attaman.
What Diet Exactly Should Be Watched For?
Omega-3 fatty acids (found in cold water fish and plant oils), are highly revered for their ability to slow the signs of aging and enhance physical stamina. Not surprisingly then, the study found that the men with the highest intake of omega-3s had better formed sperm and a slightly higher overall sperm count (0.4-3.4%) than the men who consumed the lowest amount of omega-3s.
It should be noted that this study was small scale and the researchers warn that more studies are required to confirm the precise relationship between dietary fats and male infertility. “Given the limitations of the current study, in particular the fact that it is a cross-sectional analysis and that it is the first report of a relation between dietary fat and semen quality, it is essential that these findings be reproduced in future work,” says Attaman. “In the meantime, if men make changes to their diets so as to reduce the amount of saturated fat they eat and increase their omega-3 intake, then this may not only improve their general health, but could improve their reproductive health too. At a global level, adopting these lifestyle modifications may improve general health, as high saturated fat diets are known to be a risk factor for a range of cardiovascular diseases; but, in addition, our research suggests that it could be beneficial for reproductive health worldwide.”