Nutrition and the Effects on Fertility

There has been a lot of debate about the cause of the significant decline in semen quality. While genetics, endocrine system, obesity, age, and smoking are known risk factors for a decreased sperm quality [1], there is increasing evidence that nutrition also plays an important role in men’s fertility[2],[3].

The decrease in sperm concentration is pronounced in most Western countries [4] [5], which might have a connection with the fact that the average “Western-type” diet has changed dramatically over the past 50 years.

Today’s diet typically consists of higher intake of calories, processed meat, added fat, snacks, and sweetened-sugar beverages which all may have a negative impact on semen parameters and overall health of the population.  There is a number of studies indicating, however, that a diet rich in fish/seafood, fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, whole grain foods, poultry, and nuts like walnuts may benefit sperm quality [6].

What type of diet should I avoid?

It’s not easy to determine what a “bad” diet is because there are many parameters involved, but the general definition is that’s a diet that fails to provide the body with the right amount and type of nutrients and doesn’t promote good health. Food is the primary source to cover our energy needs and repairing our body. However, overconsumption of food has led to an unprecedented increase in obesity rates in the last decades, causing metabolic disorders such as an abnormal function of the male reproductive system[7].

Another factor that is at the center of attention nowadays is the negative impact of a certain food on our health. The consumption of these foods is associated with a series of health conditions (such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes) in addition to the deterioration of semen parameters such as sperm concentration and motility.

Most hazardous foods for male infertility

Meat and dairy products high in saturated fat [8]: Animal products are the main source of saturated fat which is a type of fatty acids (single bonded fatty acids) that is considered less healthy. Researchers from Denmark who monitored 701 young men found that sperm concentration and total sperm count were lower among men with a higher intake of saturated fat.

Soy and phytoestrogens: Phytoestrogen is a certain type of naturally occurring chemicals found in many fruits and vegetables. These chemicals are also called endocrine disruptors (see our blog on endocrine disruptors) because they can mimic the estrogens in our body and interfere with the production of the hormones that are normally responsible for reproduction [9].

Soybeans and soy products are the major sources of dietary phytoestrogens with the highest content being in soy flour, isolated soy protein, tofu, tempeh, and soy milk.

Sweetened beverages and snacks:  A wide range of products in normal supermarkets, like soft drinks and cereals, carry a high amount of sugars. Excessive consumption of these products can cause an increase of oxidative stress (see our blog on Oxidative Stress) which can negatively influence sperm motility. In a 2010 study where 2,554 Danish young men were recruited according to their diet choices, it was shown that a high intake of coke was associated with reduced sperm concentration and sperm count [10].

Increasing fertility: The benefits of a healthy diet

The Mediterranean diet is a food pattern characterized by a high intake of vegetables, fruits, seafood, and healthy fats. The Mediterranean diet has plenty of well-established health benefits such as strong anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative effects. It is also related to lower coronary heart disease incidences and higher life expectancy [11].

Now what……?

Selecting the right diet can be a big task due to the complex combination of nutrients involved. However, diets such as the Mediterranean which is high in vital nutrients and fibres, seem to have a positive impact lowering the risk of health implications and showing protective effects and improvements on male fertility status. To learn more on how you should compose your diet to be sperm quality boosting – please look at our other blog articles (“The ExSeed diet” and the “Top 20 fertility superfoods”) and start your healthy routines today!

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