Your grandfather likely had more sperm than you do. Your father’s sperm was probably faster. The sad truth is, if you’re a man under the age of 40, then there’s a good chance your sperm is both fewer in number and slower than that of previous generations. One examination of multiple studies concluded that from 1973 to 2011 sperm counts had declined over 50 percent among men from North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. Shanna Swan, the report’s co-author, is an environmental and reproductive epidemiologist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York. Swan recently predicted that at the current rate, half of the men in those countries would have no sperm at all by 2045.
When a couple experiences infertility, the focus is often on the female. However, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in about one out of three such cases, a male factor is identified along with a female factor. In about 8% of couples with infertility, the male is solely responsible. Sometimes, erectile dysfunction or lack of libido is to blame. More often than not, it’s the quality of sperm. No one is certain why this has been declining for decades. Some point to the increased use of cellphones and laptops during the same period. However, diet plays a huge role. What you eat and what you don’t eat could have a lot to do with whether or not your sperm is doing its job. Here are some foods that affect male fertility.
Foods to Avoid
First of all, if your Body Mass Index is above 25 then you are at a higher risk for fertility issues. Per the CDC: “Body Mass Index (BMI) is a person’s weight in kilograms divided by the square of height in meters. A high BMI can be an indicator of high body fatness.”
Of course, being overweight has been linked to everything from diabetes and heart disease to increased risk of hospitalization and death due to COVID-19 for young adults. If you’d like to watch your daughter graduate from college––or even middle school––then take the steps to start losing weight today.
If you and your partner are trying to conceive, it’s important to note that being heavier has been linked in studies to poor sperm quality. It has also been connected to low testosterone which can also be damaging to the heart and bones. If your diet contains an above-average quantity of animal fat and protein, your sperm quality can be reduced. High-sugar diets not only contribute to diabetes but erectile dysfunction which can obviously affect your ability to impregnate. Being an overweight male means having elevated levels of the female hormone estrogen.
Speaking of estrogen, some studies suggest consuming high amounts of soy can also raise the levels of this hormone. That’s because these products contain estrogen-like plant compounds called phytoestrogens. One Boston, Massachusetts-based study from 2008 concluded that excessive soy intake reduced sperm concentration. However, a 2020 examination of 38 clinical studies that addressed this issue concluded that “no effects of soy/isoflavones on testosterone or estrogen levels in men were noted.” Still, many fertility experts continue to recommend that men who wish to become fathers––along with male vegetarians and vegans concerned about their diet’s feminizing influence––might want to ditch the soy.
More conclusive is the role that processed meats play in harming the quantity, speed, and even structure of a man’s sperm. Numerous studies have concluded that everything from bacon to packaged lunch meats can reduce a man’s chance of having offspring. High consumption of processed red meat, including hot dogs and ham, has also been linked to elevated cancer risk. High-fat milk such as that found in cream may reduce your fertility (although substituting non-dairy creamer may not be the solution either.) That’s because one 2013 study of 18-22 year old males found that consuming high-fat dairy products not only slowed down their sperm but actually altered the little guys’ shape! Some speculate that steroids given to cows may be responsible. Going organic could help.
Foods for Fertility
When it comes to foods that affect male fertility, fruits and veggies can really up your chances. Choosing those grown without pesticides is a good way to improve your sperm. While eating more of these foods is an important component of not just sperm health but physical health, some have speculated that because chemicals within pesticides behave like xenoestrogens (mimicking estrogen), they play havoc with male reproductive ability. So going organic or thoroughly washing all fruits and veggies is the best solution.
Fish isn’t just brain food. Turns out it might be a fertility food too. Although the study that showed it improved sperm’s speed was small, the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish like salmon, lake-caught trout and canned light tuna have consistently been shown to help heart health and are a fine replacement for fattier meats. So even if they don’t help, they probably can’t hurt either.
Finally, remember that diet isn’t the only fertility factor. Reducing stress and alcohol consumption (no more than two glasses per day) can improve your chances of welcoming a bundle of joy in nine months. Smoking––either tobacco or marijuana––has been associated with reduced fertility in men. Sperm researcher Swan cautions that chemicals like those found in plastic (bisphenol A or BPA), along with perfluoroalkyl and phthalates are harming the reproductive abilities of both men and women. While Swan’s beliefs may be controversial, there are plenty of good reasons to reduce your use of plastic. Adding a Vitamin D and or C supplement to your daily regimen is also widely recommended for anyone who hopes to be a dad. As many 21st century couples work hard to share parenting responsibilities, you owe it to your partner as well as yourself to take control of your health and your sperm.
- Temporal trends in sperm count: a systematic review and meta-regression analysis
- Infertility FAQs
- Don’t make the mistake of letting a diet kill sperm
- Body Mass Index
- Obesity studies highlight severe COVID outcomes, even in young adults
- Nutritional modifications in male infertility: a systematic review covering 2 decades
- Struggling to Become a Father? What You Eat May Matter
- Soy food and isoflavone intake in relation to semen quality parameters among men from an infertility clinic
- Neither soy nor isoflavone intake affects male reproductive hormones: An expanded and updated meta-analysis of clinical studies
- Dietary habits and semen parameters: a systematic narrative review
- Add falling sperm counts to the list of threats to human survival, epidemiologist warns
- Healthy Living Widgets
- Processed Meat and Cancer
John Bankston is a published author of over 150 nonfiction books for children and young adults including biographies of Jonas Salk, Gerhard Domak, and Frederick Banting.