Study: Fatty foods linked to low sperm count

March 15, 2012, 8:32 a.m.

A new study has found a link between fatty food intake and lowered sperm count. (Credit: Mike DelGaudio/Flickr Creative Commons)

First it was soda, then red meat – now this? A new study has found that a diet high in saturated fats may be linked with a lower sperm count in men.

The study, which was run by medical experts at Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health and published in the journal Human Reproduction, found a negative relation between fatty food intake and sperm concentration. Men with a high-fat diet can have a sperm count that's more than 40 percent lower than men with healthy diets, CBS News said about the study.

According to CBS, researchers asked 99 men about their diet habits and analyzed their sperm over nearly four years. The men were divided into three groups based on how much fat they consumed, and then researchers studied how their diet affected total sperm count – the total number of sperm in one ejaculation – and sperm concentration, the amount of sperm per milliliter of semen.

Results revealed that the men with the fattiest diets had a 43 percent lower sperm count and 38 percent lower sperm concentration than the men in the group with the healthiest, least fatty diet.

The World Health Organization defines normal sperm count as at least 39 million and normal sperm concentration as at least 15 million per milliliter of semen.

Researchers determined the culprit behind the lower sperm counts was saturated fat; the men in the study who ate omega-3 fatty acids – "good fat," so to speak – were found to have almost two percent more sperm than men the men in the study who ate the least amount of omega-3s.

The authors of the study cautioned in their abstract that "studies with larger samples are now required to confirm these findings" because the study's sample size is so small. In the meantime, Jill Attaman, one of the study's co-authors, called the link "quite dramatic" in a statement and suggested that "men make changes to their diets so as to reduce the amount of saturated fat they eat and increase their omega-3 intake." She said doing this will not only improve their general and cardiovascular health, but it "could improve their reproductive health too."

Despite the need for further research, Joseph Alukal, the director of male reproductive health at New York University Langone Medical Center, said the study provides valuable information. "I do think it tells use something important," Alukal told HealthDay, "in that it reminds us that male fertility is delicate and can be easily influenced by the same things that influence our general health."

Researchers said that 71 percent of men in their study were either overweight or obese, which mirrors the national obesity rate among men of 74 percent of men, which suggests that many of the country's men may not have strong sperm counts.

The men of South Los Angeles, a community with alarmingly high obesity rates, may be looking at a particularly low sperm count, especially considering its lack of options when it comes to foods low in saturated fats or other health options.

Photo by Mike DelGaudio via Flickr Creative Commons.

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