Young men who eat a heart-healthy diet may have better quality sperm than their peers who dine mostly on junk food, a small study suggests.
The American Heart Association recommends the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet or a Mediterranean-style diet to help prevent cardiovascular disease. Both diets emphasize cooking with vegetable oils, eating nuts, fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, whole grains, fish and poultry, and limiting red meat and added sugars and salt, reports Reuters.
In the study of 209 male college students, ages 18 to 23, the young men who most closely followed a DASH diet had total sperm counts 65% higher than those whose eating habits bore little resemblance to a DASH diet.
Eating patterns that stuck more closely to a DASH diet were also associated with a 74% higher total motile sperm count, a measure of the amount of moving sperm, and 31% more sperm with a normal size and shape, which are the sperm most likely to fertilize an egg.
“Even in young, healthy men with overall good semen quality, we still see an association between a healthier diet and better semen quality,” said Audrey Gaskins, a researcher at the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University in Atlanta.
“Young men are not invincible to the consequences of a poor diet,” Gaskins, who wasn’t involved in the study, said by email.
For the study, Ana Cutillas-Tolin of the University of Murcia School of Medicine in Spain and her colleagues used food questionnaires to see how much the participants consumed of the main foods that make up heart-healthy diets like the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet. They also examined how often the students ate foods that are known to help minimize the risk of common chronic diseases.
Men who most closely followed a DASH diet consumed more total calories and alcohol and got more exercise than men who didn’t follow this diet.
Eating habits didn’t appear to impact reproductive hormone levels, however, the researchers note in the journal Human Reproduction.
The study can’t prove whether or how diet impacts semen quality in young men. Beyond its small size, another limitation of the study is that researchers relied on men to accurately report their eating habits.
“The findings of this study cannot be generalized due to various limitations such as small sample size, and healthy volunteers, and the study should be extended to other populations,” said Dr. Muhammad Imran Omar, a researcher at the University of Aberdeen in the UK who wasn’t involved in the study.
“However, there is enough scientific evidence to suggest that fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy foods are important for a healthy lifestyle and reproductive health,” Omar said by email. “In addition, people should be encouraged (to get) regular exercise and avoid smoking and excessive drinking.”