Is sperm heading towards extinction in western nations? Total sperm count in North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand dropped by up to 60% in the 38 years between 1973 and 2011, research found — an acceleration of a trend that began in the 1940s.
Other studies show a simultaneous decline in testosterone levels — the hormone needed to build a man’s muscle and bone mass and boost his sex drive. No one knows why this is happening, and the debate continues in the scientific community over potential causes such as radiation, air pollution and chemicals in our food, clothes and water. Smoking, alcohol consumption and obesity are likely contributing to these results, too.
A popular theory points the finger at the poor nutritional quality of the Western diet, according to a new study published Friday in JAMA Urology.
Study author Feiby Nassan said this was the “largest study to date to examine the diet pattern with men’s testicular function,” and the findings were a bit scary for American men. On average, men who normally consumers a Westernized diet of pizza, sweets, snacks, and processed foods produced around 68 million fewer sperm upon ejaculation than men who ate a more healthy, balanced diet.
A low sperm count can negatively impact a man’s ability to get a woman pregnant, and can be a key indicator for overall male health and life expectancy.
The study examined 2,935 Danish men of normal weight — with a median age of 19 — who were undergoing a physical to determine their fitness for military service (something all men in Denmark have to do after they turn 18). Blood and semen samples were taken, and the men completed a questionnaire that asked how often they had eaten 136 food items in the prior three months.
The study looked at four food patterns:
1) The “prudent,” healthy pattern, in which fish, chicken, vegetables, fruit and water were mostly consumed.
2) The “open-sandwich pattern,” a more typically Danish diet with a greater intake of cold, processed meats, whole-grain breads, mayonnaise, cold fish, condiments and dairy.
3) The vegetarian-like pattern, with a high intake of vegetables, soy milk and eggs, with little to no red meat or chicken.
4) The “unhealthy” Western pattern, with more pizza, snacks, french fries, sweets, sugar-sweetened drinks, processed and red meat, snacks and highly processed grains.
Men who closely followed the prudent pattern of eating — characterized by lots of fish, chicken, vegetables, fruit and water — were associated with the highest sperm counts. This was followed by the semi-vegetarian and then the “smørrebrød,” or Danish, eating style.
“The median sperm count of men who had the highest adherence to the ‘prudent’ pattern was 68 million higher than men who had the highest adherence to the ‘Western’ pattern,” Nassan said, with 95 percent confidence intervals of 43 and 93.
The median sperm count of men who had the highest adherence to the vegetarian-like pattern was nearly 33 million higher than men who mostly ate the less nutritious Western diet.
Charles Lindemann, a professor emeritus and researcher at Michigan’s Oakland University who did not participate in the research, said the study’s findings “could be an important clue if it holds up to scrutiny.” A diet high in processed foods, he said, “may be responsible for the known trend that has been recorded over the recent past of progressively decreasing sperm counts.”
Nassan said her findings show eating seafood, poultry, nuts, whole grains, fruits and vegetables give the body the antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids ” essential for good sperm production.”
“Changing diet pattern may be a simple and inexpensive change” to protect a man’s testicular function, Nassan said. “I believe that it is not only ‘you are what you eat’ but it is also ‘your sperm is what you eat.’ “
– Your Big Bro