Reduced male fertility can be an emotional and exceedingly expensive problem, so any study that can shed some light on the matter is sure to be welcomed by the hundreds of thousands of childless couples who are desperate to lavish their time, attention and love on a child of their own.
Two recent studies have examined the effect of eating processed meats, such as ham or bacon, sausages, hamburgers and other tasty-but-not-healthy meat products, on the life span, mobility and vigour of spermatozoa.
One study was undertaken by Harvard University, on 156 men1; the other by a group of scientists, also from Boston with most of the experts having studied at Harvard, from establishments such as the Massachusetts General Hospital, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School2.
This study consisted of 99 men who were picked from an initial pool of 173. The participants were chosen on the basis of having a spermatozoa count within normal ranges and free from genetic conditions and so on, hence the reduction in numbers to the final 99.
The men’s spermatozoa was studied visually immediately after production and the general health of the spermatozoa was noted. Afterwards, the spermatozoa samples were centrifuged and the levels of total fatty acids were noted.
The study aims to see if, because semen is made of protein, and therefore amino acids, it can be affected by the quality of protein consumed by the man.
The men were asked to complete detailed and minutely accurate questionnaires on the types of food they ate and how often. This information was compared to the results from the spermatozoa samples.
It became clear that men who ate plenty of vegetables and fruit, including white fish in their diets on a regular basis had healthier and less fatty spermatozoa than those who often ate processed meats high in saturated fats.
The Importance of Lifestyle
However, and unfortunately, the study does not mention the exercise or lifestyle habits of the men who took part in the studies. It would be interesting to see the results given by an active man who indulges in processed meat, compared to someone with a healthy diet, but sedentary lifestyle.
The assumption generally would be that someone who eats healthily would be someone who tries to get some daily exercise, while someone who loads his body up with junk food is probably not terribly concerned with exercise. If these facts were included in the study it would give a much more complete picture of the whole lifestyle that has produced the spermatozoa in question, be it healthy or not
The researchers emphasise that the study is in its early days yet and say that while the effects of an improved and healthy diet on spermatozoa have been observed, the opposite is not yet proven; that is to say, there is no hard evidence that a poor diet can negatively affect spermatozoa viability and quality.
With new studies into the effects of saturated fats on the body seeming to overturn the accepted view that saturated fat is bad for us, perhaps the next study will find that the uncertain results are due to the nitrates, sulphides and other preservatives used to make processed meat last an unnaturally long time, rather than being the fault of the perceived villain saturated fat?
One thing is certain though. If you are one part of a couple struggling to have a child with no known medical issues that could prevent conception, you can boost your chances of having a healthy happy baby by improving the quality, viability and mobility of your sperm by cutting down on processed meats and eating plenty of fresh white fish with seasonal vegetables and fruit – a small price to pay to gain the family of your dreams!