Men looking to boost their sperm count and quality may want to head to the gym or fish market—and skip the processed meat aisle of the grocery store.
That’s according to four new studies presented this week at an international fertility conference that looked at lifestyle factors and how they affect men’s sperm.
Researchers also reported they didn’t find links between two lifestyle habits previously thought to affect sperm: caffeine and alcohol intake.
“Helping men understand how their behavior may impact their fertility is very important,” Dr. Rebecca Sokol, vice president of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, said in a statement. “These studies help us provide better information to our patients.”
Sperm is considered healthy if it has sufficient quantity, also known as sperm count. The Mayo Clinic notes that men are likely to be fertile if their ejaculate contains more than 15 million sperm per milliliter, and the sperm is of good quality (including a normal shape and structure) and movement (motility), which allows it to wiggle into an egg for fertilization.
Certain environmental factors may affect male fertility, including smoking, heavy drinking, caffeine, illegal drugs and some medications, the Clinic noted.
Researchers decided to study a group of men to determine which factors did indeed affect sperm quality. The research was presented Oct. 14 at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s (ASRM) annual meeting in Boston.
For the first study, nutrition research fellow Myriam Afeiche and her fellow Harvard School of Public Health researchers had more than 150 men who were in a relationship evaluated at the Massachusetts General Hospital Fertility Center. They were asked to complete questionnaires about their eating habits and provide sperm samples.
They found that men who ate between one and three servings of processed meats, like bacon, had worse sperm shapes (morphology) than men who ate the fewest servings. Sperm shape was better in men who ate the most white meat fish (e.g. cod, halibut) than men who ate the least.
Men who ate the most dark meat fish—including salmon, bluefish and tuna—had a total sperm count about 34 percent higher than men who ate the least amount of fish.
“We found the effect of processed meat intake lowered quality and fish raised quality,” Afeiche told theDaily Mail.