The sperm in Western nations can be likened to endangered animals where science might worry that it’s heading toward extinction.
In 38 years between 1973 and 2011, total sperm count in New Zealand, Australia, Europe, and North America decreased by up to 60 percent, the research found. The statistic is an acceleration of a trend that started in the 1940s. The trend is continuing according to more recent studies.
At the same time, studies show a simultaneous drop in testosterone levels, the hormone required to build a man’s muscle and bone mass, and also needed to boost sex drive.
Why do these things continue to happen?
No one knows. Debate rages about the role of air pollution, radiation, and chemicals in our food, water, and clothes. Obesity, alcohol consumption, and smoking likely all play a part.
So could the typical Western diet’s lower nutritional quality, according to a new study in JAMA Urology.
Study author Feiby Nassan, Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s research fellow, said this study is the largest one to date to examine the diet pattern with the testicular function of men.
The result of the study shows that, on average, Westernized diet of processed foods, sweets, snacks, pizza in men produced approximately 68 million fewer sperm upon ejaculation than those who ate a healthier, balanced diet.
If a man has fewer than 39 million sperm per ejaculation or less than 15 million sperm per litter, he is considered having low sperm count. A low sperm count can make it difficult for a man to get a partner pregnant and can be a crucial marker for men’s overall health.
Nassan said that fertility isn’t just vital in making babies but also related to a man’s life expectancy and general health.
A big difference
The study looked at 2,935 Danish men with a median age of 19 and of average weight. The participants were undergoing physical to measure their fitness for military service – something all men in their country have to do after turning 18.
The men were taken blood and semen samples and completed a questionnaire asking them how often they had eaten 136 food items in the past three months.
The study examined four food patterns:
- The “prudent,” healthy pattern, in which fruit, vegetables, fish, chicken, and water were mostly consumed.
- The “open-sandwich pattern,” a more typical Danish diet with higher consumption of cold, whole-grain pieces of bread, processed meats, mayonnaise, cold fish, dairy, and condiments.
- The “vegetarian-like pattern,” in which vegetables, soy milk, and eggs were highly consumed with little to no red meat or chicken.
- The “unhealthy” Western pattern, with more sweets, sugar-sweetened drinks, pizza, snacks, french fries, red meat, and processed grains.
Men who were on the prudent pattern of eating got the highest sperm counts. In the second place were men who closely followed the semi-vegetarian and then followed by the Danish eating style.
Nassan said that men who closely followed the ‘prudent’ pattern had a median sperm count of 68 million higher than who closely followed the ‘Western’ pattern with 95 percent confidence intervals of 43 and 93.
Additionally, the median sperm count of men who strictly followed the vegetarian-like pattern was almost 33 million higher than those who ate the less nutritious Western diet.
Non-participant of the study Charles Lindemann, a researcher and professor emeritus at Michigan’s Oakland University, commented on the study’s preliminary results last year, saying that the study’s findings could be a vital clue if it holds up to scrutiny. He noted that a diet high in processed foods could be the culprit of a continuing decrease in sperm counts over the recent past.
Nassan said her findings show consuming fruits, vegetables, whole grains, poultry, nuts, and seafood provides the body the antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for proper sperm production.
According to Nassan, protecting a man’s testicular function may only need changing simple and inexpensive diet pattern.
“I believe that it is not only ‘you are what you eat,’ but it is also ‘your sperm is what you eat,” Nassan said.