Your Favorite Vices Might Be Hurting Your Sperm

A new study links rich diets filled with beer, coffee, cheese and other delicious things with lower sperm quality

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Mar 14, 2017 at 11:18 AM ET

Bad news for wannabe dads who like their fill of coffee and beer: it might be damaging the quality of your sperm. Researchers have found that a rich diet filled with these most appealing of vices — along with processed meat, cheese, dairy, and sweets (a.k.a. the good things in life) — is linked with lower-quality swimmers.

When it comes to conception, it’s usually women who are the focus of experts’ furiously wagging fingers — whether it’s recommendations around daily prenatal vitaminscaffeine intake, or avoiding alcohol if there is any remote chance that they might get pregnant — but this study focuses on the male side of the equation, and the findings are just as much of a buzzkill for men as they typically are for women.

The study, published in the journal Human Reproduction Update, systematically reviewed 35 previously published articles on sperm quality and found that, as you might expect, healthy diets are associated with healthy sperm. Men who ate diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids and certain antioxidants, like vitamins E and C, and low in saturated fatty acids and trans-fatty acids had higher-quality sperm. So did men who ate seafood, poultry, cereals, vegetables, fruits, low-fat dairy, and skimmed milk. Here’s the bummer part: diets rich in “processed meat, soy foods, potatoes, full-fat dairy and total dairy products, cheese, coffee, alcohol, sugar-sweetened beverages and sweets” were associated with low sperm quality.

Alcohol, caffeine, red meat and processed meat were also linked to lower rates of pregnancy or fertilization among their female partners.

As the paper points out, this is awfully relevant news for the 15 percent of reproductive-age couples who struggle with infertility. It’s estimated that roughly 25 percent of these cases are the result of factors on the male side, including low semen quality; and recent research has shown an overall decline in semen quality around the globe. Previous studies have looked to everything from air pollution to stress for blame, but this latest study suggests that diet might be an important factor. The authors note that more research is needed before any solid conclusions are drawn, but they go so far as to say that “male adherence to a healthy diet can improve semen quality.”

It’s just one more unexpected motivator to eat healthier — not just for yourself, but your sperm, too.