Harvard Men's Health Watch

Medical memo: Nutrition and fertility

You are what you eat.

It's an oversimplification, but it has more than a germ of truth. In fact, a man's diet has a substantial effect on his risk of many important diseases including heart attack, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, various malignancies, and of course, obesity. But does a man's diet also influence his fertility? According to research from Spain, the answer may be yes.

To evaluate the effect of diet on fertility, scientists studied the male partners of couples who attended fertility clinics. Men with known genetic, anatomical, or hormonal abnormalities that affect fertility were excluded from the study. Each volunteer submitted at least two semen specimens for analysis, and each provided information on his consumption of 96 food items during the preceding year. Researchers also measured levels of reproductive hormones and collected information about other factors that might affect sperm quality, including smoking, body weight, alcohol use, and exposure to pollutants.

The scientists applied criteria from the World Health Organization to divide their patients into two groups: one group of 30 men had poor semen quality, while the other group of 31 had better semen quality. The two groups did not differ in terms of smoking, drinking, obesity, environmental exposure, or hormone levels — but they did differ in their diets.

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