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Survival of the Fittest? Men, Fat and Fertility

by Leigh Ann Woodruff, March 23, 2012

Two studies came out last week that should encourage men trying to conceive with their partners to keep away from pizza and fried chicken and check out colorful fruits and veggies instead. More and more research is finding that what and how much men eat can affect fertility — just as it affects other aspects of health.

So before you settle in for the march to the Final Four with your big bowl of chips and dip, read on ...

Weighty Matters

A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that, compared with men of normal weight, overweight and obese men were more likely to have low sperm count, or not have any viable sperm at all. The researchers say that the global obesity epidemic may help explain the concurrent decrease in male fertility.

In this retrospective study, researchers looked at 14 different studies that included nearly 10,000 men. They found that among men who were normal weight, 24 percent had a low sperm count and 2.6 percent had no viable sperm. Of the men who were obese, 32.4 percent had a low sperm count and 6.9 percent had no viable sperm.

"Obesity affects the whole body system and it would make sense that sperm production and quality would be affected as well," says John E. Nichols, Jr., M.D., FACOG, a fertility doctor and medical director of Piedmont Reproductive Endocrinology Group. "Obesity predisposes to many diseases including, diabetes, hypertension, heart and kidney disease. as well as an overall increased inflammatory state, which is bad for the whole endocrine network, including the reproductive system."

It's Not Just How Much You Eat, But What You Eat

A fatty diet has also been linked to reduced semen quality, according to a small study of 99 U.S. men by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. The researchers found an association between a high total fat intake and lower total sperm count and concentration.

The researchers questioned men about their diet and analyzed samples of their semen. They divided the men into three groups according to the amount of fats they consumed. Men who had the highest fat intake had a 43 percent lower total sperm count and 38 percent lower sperm concentration than men with the lowest fat intake. It's important to note that 71 percent of the men in the study were overweight or obese.

In this study, "it is not just high amounts of fats in diet but, more importantly, the type of fats," Dr. Nichols says. "It does appear that the higher omega 3 fats (one of the good fats) have been associated with better sperm parameters."

Men can change their lifestyles and regain reproductive fitness, according to Dr. Nichols. "Loss of weight by both healthier diet and exercise can reverse many — if not all — the negative effects that obesity causes, including improving reproduction," he says. "Once again, a Darwinian 'Survival of the Fittest.'"

For information on how men can increase their fertility, read Fertility Boosters for Men.


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