There's now evidence that junk food like pizza and chips could reduce your sperm count, but eating fish and veggies may improve it

Business Insider US
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  • A new study suggests that men who have Western diets high in processed and junk foods like pizza, red meat, and chips have lower sperm counts than men who eat diets with fewer processed foods.
  • A low sperm count can negatively affect fertility. Sperm count is also linked to sex drive and sexual functioning.
  • Eating a balanced diet of fresh produce and cutting down on processed foods is among several lifestyle choices connected to a robust sperm count.
  • For more stories, go to Business Insider SA.

Junk food junkies, beware: There's now evidence that eating pizza, red meat, and processed foods isn't only likely to round out your beer belly and potentially increase your cancer risk, but the so-called "Western diet" may also decrease your sperm count and potentially hurt your fertility.

The new study, presented at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology's recent conference, looked at the diets of 2,935 young Danish mento figure out how what they ate affected their sperm counts. The measure is an important factor in fertility, and also plays a role in sex drive and sexual function problems like erectile dysfunction.

The researchers categorised the men, who all took military fitness exams between 2008 and 2017, by the type of foods they consumed regularly, or their "diet patterns." The patterns included a Western diet full of pizza, chips, processed and red meats, snacks, refined grains, energy drinks, and sweets; a "prudent diet" including fish, chicken, vegetables, fruit, and water; a classic Danish "smørrebrød diet" consisting of cold processed meats, whole grains, mayonnaise, cold fish, condiments, and dairy; and a vegetarian diet including mainly vegetables, soy milk, and eggs.

The researchers found that men who followed the prudent diet pattern had the highest sperm counts, while men who had a Western diet pattern had the lowest. Men with vegetarian patterns had the second highest sperm counts, followed by men who ate in the more traditionally Danish way.

"Our findings support the growing evidence that adhering to generally healthy diet patterns, including local variations, is associated to higher sperm counts and more favorable markers of sperm function," the study authors wrote in the abstract. Other research has suggested a diet high in processed foods can decrease sperm count, as well as have other ill health effects like an increased risk for heart disease and cancer.

There were some caveats to the study, like the fact that the researchers only looked at Danish men, which means the findings can't be generalised to men worldwide. The researchers also said they were unable to suss out other factors that could have caused low sperm count in the test subjects, like a genetic predisposition for low sperm. Certain medications for hair loss, chemotherapy, anxiety, and depression, as well as environmental toxins, can decrease sperm counts as well.

Eating a balanced diet of unprocessed foods is one way to support a healthy sperm count

According to the Mayo Clinic, a normal sperm count is between 15 million sperm and 200 million sperm per milliliter of semen. To determine sperm count, a doctor can analyze a man's ejaculate. These tests are also available at fertility clinics and in the form of at-home tests.

Unlike women, who are born with a set number of eggs, men have the ability, to some extent, to boost their swimmers' quality and quantity. As the current study indicates, one of those ways is to eat fewer processed foods and fill your diet with fresh produce, healthy fats like nuts and olive oil, and lean proteins. Men can also avoid or limit tobacco and alcohol use, which are connected to lower sperm counts as well.

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