Men, is your diet killing your sperm?
It has been happening silently but surely. Over the past 40 years, sperm count has been gradually declining by 50% to 60% in men leading to a significant decline in men’s reproductive health. According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), male infertility is as much a problem as female infertility. About 35% percent of infertility issues can be attributed to men and an equal 35% to women.
Symptoms of low sperm count
Men may not have any symptoms of low sperm count. It can happen gradually over a period of time. Though most of the times symptoms are not seen, a few signs or symptoms of low sperm count may show up as a decreased sexual drive, pain in the testicles, or decreased facial or body hair, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Causes of low sperm count
There are several reasons for low sperm count in men. Some of these may be related to medical issues such as varicocele, infection, retrograde ejaculation, a defect in the tubes that transport the sperm, and many more such issues. Medical causes can often be remedied through surgery or medication.
Other causes may be more environmental and related to the hazards of the job. This may apply to men working in professions where they are exposed to certain chemicals such as benzenes, toluene, xylene, herbicides, pesticides, organic solvents, painting materials. Heavy metal exposure or exposure to radiation or X-rays. There is some evidence from research studies that shows that sitting for too long, wearing tight clothes that restrict movement of testicles can lead to low sperm count. Frequently sitting in a sauna or a hot tub can also reduce sperm production. Sitting for long hours working with your laptop on your lap is also not a good idea because of the heat generated by a laptop. Obesity is also a likely factor for oligospermia, the medical term for low sperm count.
What about the foods you eat – can they affect sperm count?
Most men would hardly consider the food they eat could have an impact on their sperm count. However, there is sufficient evidence to prove an association with certain foods and lower sperm counts, though not a direct cause. Eager to know which ones? Let’s get going …
Processed red meat
Processed meat, red meat in particular, was associated with lower sperm counts. This concern is mainly for the 72% of men who are meat eaters in India and out of those, specifically meat lovers who love a generous helping of red meats with very little vegetable or salad on the side! This also includes meats like salami and bacon. With Indian diet preferences growing more western this could spell bad news for meat lovers who just have to have their daily diet of beef, mutton, or pork. We would recommend substituting chicken or fish instead of red meat.
Everyone on the planet should avoid trans-fat but for men, too much trans-fat has been associated with lower production of sperm, according to a Spanish study in 2011. Trans-fat is saturated fat which has a negative impact on health, particularly cardiovascular health but a study published in Human Reproduction journal found “The intake of trans fatty acids is inversely related to total sperm count in healthy young men.“ Unfortunately, commercial Indian snacks and fast food are loaded with trans-fat.
According to the World Health Organization the total fat intake per person should not exceed 30% of a person’s overall energy intake. Of that, the intake of saturated fat should be less than 10% and the intake of trans-fat less than 1%.
Soy and soy products
Soy and soy products contain plant compounds called phytoestrogens which mimic the work of a female hormone called estrogen. A cross-sectional study provided valuable epidemiological evidence showing that phytoestrogens interfere with male reproductivity. In this study, phytoestrogens were associated with lower sperm count. An earlier study showed this to be particularly associated with overweight or obese men.
Pesticides and bisphenol a (BPA) and other environmental factors
We know. These are chemicals and not really a food item but these chemicals are found on vegetables and fruits, even in meat and fish due to contaminated water. Some of these chemicals can come from non-stick cookware as well. Both pesticides and BPA contain a compound called xenoestrogen – which like phytoestrogen, mimic estrogen. “Several studies have reported inverse associations between PCBs and circulating testosterone levels in men,” according to a 2010 study. Another study shows “Mobile phones might adversely affect the quality of semen by decreasing mostly motility but also the sperm counts, viability and morphology.”
The hazardous effects of smoking are known to all. Smoking impacts sperm counts as well as motility and ideally should be completed avoided by anyone planning a pregnancy and even in terms of general health.
This is more of a beverage than a food. We mention it here because the adverse effects are significant. Habitual consumption of alcohol has been associated with adverse effects on sperm quality. Even the most modest consumption, say 5 units a week, was seen to affect male reproductive health and this effect was more pronounced in men who consumed more than 25 units a week. These conclusions were drawn from a cross-sectional study of over 1200 Danish men.
Promote semen health
The studies mentioned above show an association with low sperm count. More studies are needed to draw conclusive evidence but couples who are eager to conceive might want to adapt their diets based on the above associations to promote healthy sperm production. Other recommendations include losing weight if you are overweight or obese and making sure sugar levels are under tight control. Foods that may help support male reproductive health include walnuts, bananas, berries, vegetables like tomatoes and spinach, and a bit of dark chocolate.