• Dr Peter Chew

Your sperm is what you eat

K was visibly shocked and upset when I told him the result of his semen analysis. His sperm count was low at 10 million per ml compared to the normal of more than 20 million per ml. The qualities of the sperm including the swimming ability (motility) and shape (morphology) of the sperm were also below normal.

“Doc,” K looked at me in disbelief. “Can I repeat the test?” he requested. A week later, the repeat test showed a similar result.

K, 32, a sales executive had been married for the past 3 years. He had been trying actively to impregnate his wife without success for the past 2 years. He did not smoke, drink, or had past exposure to sexually transmitted diseases. He exercised regularly. But he had a craving for fast food since young. He would indulge in sausages, chips, pizza, processed and red meats almost every other day. Despite regular exercise, he had been putting on weight over the years.

Male infertility

In Singapore, it has been estimated that one in 5 to 6 couples of reproductive age has problems with getting pregnant. About half of the cases are due to male factors and over 90% are due to low sperm count (oligospermia), decreased motility (asthenozoospermia), and reduced number of sperm of normal shape (teratozoospermia).

Sperm and fast food

Scientific reviews have revealed that sperm counts in developed countries have plummeted by nearly 60 percent in the past 40 years. The decline has been attributed to many factors. Among these factors, diet is increasingly being recognised as a major one.

In recent years, scientists have found that eating too much fast food with processed meat and large amounts of saturated fat is associated with lower sperm counts. This is confirmed by a new study in 2019 which showed the negative impact of fast food on sperm counts and testicular function. The researchers studied the diet and semen quality of nearly 3,000 healthy young Danish men who underwent a compulsory military-readiness medical exam between 2008 and 2017.

They categorised the diet into four patterns:

  • "Prudent": Lots of fish, chicken, vegetables, fruit, and water

  • "Vegetarian": mainly vegetables, soy milk and eggs

  • "Scandinavian": cold processed meats, whole grains, mayonnaise, cold fish, condiments and dairy

  • "Western": pizza, chips, processed and red meats, snacks, refined grains, energy drinks, and sweets

The results: Men who ate the prudent diet had the highest sperm count, followed by those who took vegetarian and traditional Danish diet. Those who had the Western diet had the lowest sperm count.

It has been suggested that the trans fatty acid and saturated fat in fast food can affect sperm production, damage sperm DNA and reduce the production of male hormones. Environmental toxins such as phthalates and pesticides can also enter our body via food. These chemicals can further disrupt the hormonal system in our body and affect sperm health.

K began to understand the negative impact of fast food on sperm. He cut down the frequency of eating fast food gradually. Instead, he started to eat more vegetables, fruits, nuts and fish. He tried to eat at least one healthy home-cooked meal a day instead of eating out. He also stopped taking drinks with high sugar content, such as soda, and replacing it with water.

"Doc, I even buy a recipe book for cooking healthy dishes and learn how to cook on weekends. I am confident that my sperm count will improve," he said positively.

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