Two new studies which have recently been presented to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine annual meeting in Orlando, Florida, have suggested an association between sperm quality and diet. Both studies have only been presented to a medical meeting, meaning that the data and findings should be treated as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.
However the findings appear to support the theory that certain foods enhance to quality of semen that the body produces. Red meat and grains which have been processed seem to reduce the sperms’ capability to move and other foods such as trans fat can reduce the numbers of sperm to be found in the semen according to the studies.
The observations were the work of Audrey J. Gaskins, lead author of the first study, who is a doctoral candidate in Harvard School of Public Health's department of nutrition in Boston. He worked alongside researchers from both the University of Murcia in Spain and the University of Rochester. The second study was led by Dr. Jorge Chavarro. He is an assistant professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health.
Audrey J. Gaskins says of her research, "The main overall finding of our work is that a healthy diet seems to be beneficial for semen quality". She expands, "Specifically, a healthy diet composed of a higher intake of fish, fresh fruit, whole grains, legumes and vegetables seems to improve sperm motility, which means a higher number of sperm actually move around, rather than sit still."
The study carried out by Gaskins involved 188 young men aged between 18 and 22. All of the participants were from Rochester and were asked to fill in questionnaires regarding eating habits. Upon completion the questionnaire results were classified as either ‘Western’ or ‘Prudent’ by the researchers. ‘Western’ described a diet with red meat, sugary foodstuffs, energy drinks and refined carbohydrates, whereas ‘Prudent’ could have been named ‘healthy’ or suchlike as it comprised mainly of fish, legumes, vegetables, fruit and whole (unrefined) grains.
The subjects’ semen was then tested and the areas of concentration, shape and movement were appraised. The results of the tests on those ‘Western’ diet indicated that movement, also known as motility, was affected. However no change was seen in shape or numbers of sperm. Other factors known to affect sperm such as body mass index (BMI), race or smoking were all taken into account.
Gaskins accepts that these are early findings and that more research is needed to build an understanding of the association between diet and sperm. She acknowledges the research’s limitations when she says, "This was a small study, and we don't know if there's something else about the men that causes them to have worse motility. We don't know if nutrition actually causes the change. So, for now all we can say is that there's an association between nutrition and sperm quality".
The second study was small scale too, with 100 men being investigated. This research found that men who ate food with higher contents of trans fat also had a lower sperm count. The trans fat content in the sperm and in the semen also increased as trans fat levels increased. Testing methods used in this study were nutritional analysis and semen quality analysis.
As with the first study all factors which may have an affect on sperm quality or quantity were taken into account. This study found that when more trans fatty acids were eaten then the person had a lower sperm concentration. However consuming more trans fatty acids did not affect shape or movement of the sperm.
Dr. Edward Kim, from the University of Tennessee's graduate school of medicine in Knoxville and president of the Society for Male Reproduction and Urology said, "I think that this research is certainly very suggestive that dietary factors may have an impact on male infertility. And the studies point us in a direction that suggests that a healthy lifestyle may correlate with better quality sperm". Although enthusiastic about the research Kim adds a note of caution when he says, "But clearly further research in this area is needed to come up with definitive conclusions".