Fats & Sperm
This one is going to be little different. The main topic will be the truth about fats and their effect on sperm count. The sub-plot will be the huge game of propaganda on this story.
I was shocked as began to research my hypothesis that a low fat diet would reduce sperm count, since cholesterol is required for testosterone and spermatozoa to develop. The shock was when my Google search came back with the same headline over and over for several pages of results. For fun search "low sperm count and fatty acids" and see what you get. (or click the link)
OMG! Fatty foods REDUCE sperm count? Drats! My hypothesis up in flames before I even start? OK, well the scientific method encourages this, try to disprove your theory, OK, I'm in. Let's look at the actual study here. It was done in a pretty sloppy way, too many variables, some were significant. It was an observational study of only 99 men, the study depended on a questionnaire asking men to state what their diet consisted of. It is well known that retrospective questionnaires are very inaccurate for rigorous tests. They tested 23 of the 99 men semen and blood, but not all 99. 71% of the men were obese or overweight. This is very significant. Let's talk about what that has to do with sperm count. "Obese people have larger and more abundant adipocytes (the cells that form adipose tissue), adipocytes are loaded with an enzyme known as aromatase which is the chief culprit in the transformation of testosterone into estrogen." The Medicine Daily blog points out; thankfully someone who is doing due diligence on a study like this.
"Estrogen is involved in a negative feedback loop with the hypothalamus – when the hypothalamus detects high levels of estrogen it slows down testosterone production by limiting LH and FSH (Luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) are called gonadotropins) from the pituitary gland. The chain is known as the HPGA (hypothalamus-pituitary-gonadal axis) or HPTA (hypothalamus-pituitary-testicular axis).
When LH and FSH (primarily FSH) levels fall, sperm production begins to decline – this is why men become less fertile as they age and why men on testosterone replacement therapy have a difficult time conceiving – due to diminished FSH levels.
Now, if those men were already obese it is likely that they already have a lower sperm count due to high circulating estrogen and lower FSH. When fed a diet of saturated fats (which has been shown to increase testosterone, here and in other instances, as steroid hormones are derived from lipids) their estrogen levels are likely to rise even more due to conversion of testosterone to estrogen. This will further lower FSH levels."
To be fair, the Dr. who did the study has excellent credentials: Prof Jill Attaman is currently Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Dartmouth Medical School and a Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility Subspecialist at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. She did state more than once in here findings that they were inconclusive and needed more clinical research. "Given the limitations of the current study, in particular the fact that it is a cross-sectional analysis and that it is the first report of a relation between dietary fat and semen quality, it is essential that these findings be reproduced in future work." however this caveat ends here. She made several statements indicating her bias and made her suggestions known which the press just gobbled up and sprayed all over the headlines with scary pictures of fatty foods. (See above)
Of note: 71% of all the men in the study were overweight or obese, and the health effects of this could also affect semen quality. However, the researchers made allowances for this. "We were able to isolate the independent effects of fat intake from those of obesity using statistical models," said Prof Attaman. "Notably, the frequency of overweight and obesity among men in this study does not differ much from that among men in the general population in the USA (74%)."
So they were saying that they used some fancy math to determine everything that might also have caused the reduction is healthy semen? If you can do that, then you could solve the issue straight away, right?
She went on to say the big agenda item here: "In the meantime, if men make changes to their diets so as to reduce the amount of saturated fat they eat and increase their omega-3 intake, then this may not only improve their general health, but could improve their reproductive health too. At a global level, adopting these lifestyle modifications may improve general health, as high saturated fat diets are known to be a risk factor for a range of cardiovascular diseases; but, in addition, our research suggests that it could be beneficial for reproductive health worldwide."
OK, so we're done with this study, take it with a grain of salt.
Omega-3's can really help reproductive health
This study is really on to something. If you've read my post on Fat you'll see much more on the Omega-6/Omega-3 ratio and it's effects on your overall health. It's entitled "Relationship of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids with semen characteristics, and anti-oxidant status of seminal plasma: a comparison between fertile and infertile men."
Methods: "Eighty-two infertile men with idiopathic OAT and seventy-eight fertile men defined according to semen concentration and proven fertility were enrolled in the study. The semen parameters were assessed according to World Health Organization criteria; three omega-3 fatty acids--alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and two omega-6 fatty acids--linoleic acid (LA) and arachidonic acid (AA) concentrations were measured in blood plasma and spermatozoa; and the seminal plasma enzymatic antioxidant levels of catalase, and superoxide dismutase (SOD) were also assessed."
Now that looks like a clinical study, two groups of nearly equal size and a single determining factor was studied by playing around with a few variables.
Conclusions: "Infertile men had lower concentrations of omega-3 FAs in spermatozoa than fertile men. These results suggest that research should be performed to assess the potential benefits of omega-3 FA supplementation as a therapeutic approach in infertile men with idiopathic OAT."
You can read the results, which are pretty technical in nature, but their conclusion did not make too much of a splash because it did not go along with the "fats are bad" agenda.
Another clinical study "An omega-3 fatty acid, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), is enriched in testicular membrane phospholipids, but its function is not well understood. The Fads2 gene encodes an enzyme required for the endogenous synthesis of DHA. Using Fads2-null mice (Fads2/), we found in our preceding studies that DHA deficiency caused the arrest of spermiogenesis and male infertility, both of which were reversed by dietary DHA."
Look on the back of your fish-oil and see how much DHA is available. Ours is made by Nordic Naturals, it has 550 mg of DHA and 825 mg of EPA.
Conclusion: If you eat junk food it's bad for you in many ways, stop doing that. Beyond that, Omega-6 will reduce your ability to produce healthy sperm when out of balance with Omega-3's. More Omega-3's will increase productivity of healthy swimmers. Eating saturated fats from healthy natural sources will not hamper your ability to reproduce, but being obese will.
I hope that helps clear things up.
Tim & Lynette Jenné are learners first and foremost. We love to ask "why?" We question the status quo. We also love to research and find answers for ourselves. As parents of four adult children, we've learned a few things along the way that may be helpful to others. We love to live & eat clean, simple lives.