October 23, 2014
It seems a week doesn’t go by without a new study touting a discovery about sperm count. What’s true and what’s myth?
It’s the news every beer-chugging, steak-chomping, broccoli-burning man has waiting for: Vegetables are bad for your health.
A new study presented at the American Society of Reproductive Medicine’s (ASRM) annual meeting revealed that hopeful fathers-to-be who consumed large amounts of fresh produce had a significantly reduced sperm count, meaning that less carrots and more calzones could be the answer to your baby-making woes.
The fertility research was carried out over four years across communities in Southern California with a high population of Seventh-Day Adventists, whose strict diet excludes meat. Their average life span—which, at 89, is approximately 10 years longer than the average American—was thought to be linked to the quality of their sperm, but the research found the reverse. Only a third of sperm in vegetarians or vegans was found to be active, while this number was almost double among carnivorous types, who had a sperm count of 70 million per ml. Compare this with the little swimmers of vegetarians, who clocked in at 50 million per ml, and it looks as though protein consumption has a significant effect on male fertility.
The paper’s authors also believe that the soy-rich diet of non-meat eaters could be to blame due to its levels of phyto-estrogens, which have similar properties to estrogen itself (and could therefore be overpowering a man’s testosterone). “It’s hard to tell people not to be vegetarians if they are trying to conceive,” said Eliza Orzylowska, an obstetrician at Loma Linda University Medical Center. “But I would caution against using soy, at least for 74 days beforehand, which is the time it takes for sperm to be replaced.”
So does this research mean meat-refusing males should start ditching their diets? “I’m not worrying [about these studies] much,” confesses Jon Robinson, a 23-year-old vegetarian medical student. “That said, I am always very edgy about ‘engineered’ products like soy-derivatives. They just don’t seem natural.”
Though the initial findings in this study do point toward some potentially interesting developments, the forever-conflicting advice over how to nurture healthy swimmers is endless. Is this latest discovery just another spurious claim to sperm fame?
Further new research professing to debunk spunk claims that beer increases male fertility. A study of men whose partners were undergoing IVF at Massachusetts General Hospital found that those who drank a pint a day had the best chance of boosting conception. Men who consumed an average of 2.7 alcohol units each day had a 57 percent chance of the process ending in pregnancy—double that of those whose intake was lower. Health experts have attributed this to alcohol’s ability to temper stress levels, and for those consciously trying for a child, removing some of the pressure during sex could be the key to aiding conception.
Speaking at the ASRM conference, Dr. Allan Pacey, an andrology lecturer at the University of Sheffield, agreed: “There has been conflicting data about the benefit or harm of drinking alcohol when trying to conceive. However, I firmly believe that moderate social drinking within guidelines (three to four units per day) can be of benefit for couples trying to conceive… It helps to reduce stress.”
And in yet more brain-boggling sperm stats, drinking coffee was shown to reduce birth rates from 52 percent to 19 percent (among those consuming two cups per day). Though the quality, shape, and swimming prowess of the sperm is believed to be unaffected by these substances, their dramatic impact on fertility could be a red flag for fathers hoping for a natural conception.
With such a vast array of sperm-related theories flying around, it may well be better not to take too much notice, according to Dr. Robert Gustofson of the Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine. “People must use common sense when looking at these approaches,” he says. “Radically eliminating vegetables is not a long-term solution. If you’re planning to have a child, you want to live long enough to enjoy them, and overhauling your diet in an unsuitable way will only damage your health over time.”
Indeed, while setting fire to your vegetable patch and drinking beer on a daily basis may feel like fun—and now a science-approved activity—abandoning your general health altogether is probably inadvisable.
The Daily Beast