Multiple recent studies have shown a decline in men’s sperm concentration and total sperm count over the past 80 years, but the underlying cause of this downward trend is unclear. Most likely, there are multiple factors contributing to this trend, including worsening diets and an increasing number of men with obesity.
A recent review in the journal Fertility and Sterility summarized the growing body of medical literature about the role of men’s diets on fertility and here’s what they concluded:
- Dietary fats: polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), particularly DHA, are essential for sperm function. Studies have shown that higher intake of omega-3 PUFAs have been associated with higher total sperm counts and a greater percentage of morphologically normal sperm. Taking a fish oil supplement, which is rich is EPA and DHA, may therefore help improve sperm quality. On the other hand, consuming high amounts of trans fatty acids and saturated fats may have a negative impact on sperm quality.
- Antioxidants: the collective medical literature shows that taking antioxidant supplements, including Vitamin C, improves sperm quality, particularly sperm motility. Taking antioxidant supplements may also increase a couple’s chance of conceiving a pregnancy according to some studies.
- Folic acid: studies have shown that folic acid supplementation can increase sperm concentration and motility. Folic acid may also decrease sperm DNA damage.
- Soy products: the medical literature examining a relationship between soy and male fertility is limited and inconsistent. Of the published studies, some do show that xenoestrogens from soy may be harmful to male reproductive potential, but others show no relationship.
- Dairy: the medical literature on the relationship between dairy intake and semen quality is inconclusive, but some studies have shown that dairy is a possible risk factor for poorer semen parameters. A significant amount commercial milk comes from pregnant cows, so naturally occurring placental hormones, such as estrogen, may affect the male reproductive system.
- Meat: meat intake is another area where the medical literature is inconsistent. If available to you, it may be prudent though to try to consume more grass-fed and farm fresh meats. Non-organic meats come from animals that have been exposed to anabolic steroids and hormones in order to promote growth. Consuming these steroids/hormones could potentially alter a man’s reproductive hormones.
- Methylmercury in fish: the overall data suggests that the beneficial effects of fish intake may outweigh the potential negative effects that methylmercury may have on sperm production.
- Pesticides: consumption of high-pesticide-residue fruits and vegetables, such as strawberries, spinach, and apples, has been associated with poorer semen quality, so men may want to buy the organic version of these. Eating low-pesticide-residue fruits and vegetables, such as onions, avocados, and beans are associated with better sperm parameters.
Overall, it seems that making healthy diet choices is associated with better semen parameters. For couples struggling with male infertility, making some lifestyle changes may give them a better chance of conceiving a pregnancy. For more information about how diet can affect fertility, visit our Lifestyle and Fertility page.