Men, especially of the reproductive stage, should be very careful about what they eat. Chips and burgers, beer and fries are all fine but only as occasional indulgence. If they want to maintain a healthy semen quality, that is. A study published online in Human Reproductio, Europe's leading journal on reproductive medicine, has found a strong association between semen quality and amount and type of fats a man consumes.
Men who have a high total fat intake have lower total sperm count and concentration than those who have low fat intake. However, men who ate more good fats such as omega-3 polyunsaturated fats [fat found in fish and plant oils] had better formed sperm than men who ate less. "Total sperm count" is the total number of sperm in the ejaculate, while "sperm concentration" is the number of sperms per unit volume. The World Health Organization provides a definition of "normal" total sperm count and concentration as follows: the total number of spermatozoa in the ejaculate should be at least 39 million; the concentration of spermatozoa should be at least 15 million per ml.
It was found that men with the highest fat intake had a 43 per cent lower total sperm count and 38 per cent lower sperm concentration than men with the lowest fat intake. Men consuming the most saturated fats had a 35 per cent lower total sperm count than men eating the least, and a 38 per cent lower sperm concentration.
Men consuming the most omega-3 fats had slightly more sperm (1.9 per cent) that were correctly formed than men that had the lowest omega-3 intake.
Of note: 71 per cent of all the men in the study were overweight or obese, and the health effects of this could also affect semen quality. However, the researchers made allowances for this.
"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," said Professor Jill Attaman, who was a 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.
However, the researchers warn that this is a small study, and its findings need to be replicated by further research in order to be sure about the role played by fats on men's fertility. Researchers also warn that studies like theirs cannot show that dietary fats cause poor semen quality, only that there is an association between the two.
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