Researched-Backed Health News: Harvard study links typical Western diet to low sperm count & low testosterone

Yet another study, this time by Harvard, links the standard American diet with its poor eating habits to health problems – this time to low sperm counts and low testosterone. CNN reports on the study:

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. More recent studies show the trend is continuing.

At the same time, studies show a concurrent decline in testosterone levels — the hormone needed to build a man’s muscle and bone mass and boost his sex drive.

Harvard’s study points to the lower nutritional quality of the typical Western diet as the main culprit, according to its new study published Friday in JAMA Network Open.

“This study is the largest study to date to examine the diet pattern with men’s testicular function,” said study author Feiby Nassan, a research fellow at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The study found that, on average, men who typically ate a Westernized diet of pizza, snacks, sweets and processed foods produced around 68 million fewer sperm upon ejaculation than men who ate a more healthy, balanced diet.

A man is considered to have a low sperm count if he has less than 39 million sperm per ejaculation or fewer than 15 million sperm per milliliter. A low sperm count can negatively impact a man’s ability to get a partner pregnant, and it can be a key marker for overall male health.

“Fertility is not just important to make babies,” Nassan said, adding that new research recently shows fertility is related to a man’s general health and life expectancy.

The study looked at four food patterns among Danish men:
  • The “prudent,” healthy pattern, in which fish, chicken, vegetables, fruit and water were mostly consumed.
  • 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.
  • The vegetarian-like pattern, with a high intake of vegetables, soy milk and eggs, with little to no red meat or chicken.
  • And 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. Those who followed the Western pattern came in last.

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.’”

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