Study of the Day: Diets High in Saturated Fats May Spoil Semen

New research shows that men who eat more omega-3 polyunsaturated fats found in fish and plant oils have better formed sperm.

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PROBLEM: Though previous studies have looked into the relationship between body mass index and semen quality, little is known about the potential role of dietary fats in fertility.

METHODOLOGY: Researchers led by Jill Attaman conducted a small trial with 99 men in the United States for nearly four years. They asked the participants about their diet and analyzed samples of their semen. They also measured levels of fatty acids in the sperm and seminal plasma of 23 participants.

RESULTS: The men were divided into three groups according to the amount of fats they consumed, and those in the third who ate the most fat had a 43 percent lower total sperm count and 38 percent lower sperm concentration than those in the bottom third. The subjects who ate more omega-3 polyunsaturated fats, which are often found in fish and plant oils, had better formed sperm as well.

CONCLUSION: The amount and type of fats men consume may have an effect on semen quality. More precisely, eating high levels of saturated fats appears to lower total sperm count and concentration.

IMPLICATION: Men should reduce the saturated fats they consume and increase their omega-3 intake. Attaman said in a statement, "This may not only improve their general health, but could improve their reproductive health too."

SOURCE: The full study, "Dietary Fat and Semen Quality Among Men Attending a Fertility Clinic," is published in the journal Human Reproduction.

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Hans Villarica writes for and produces The Atlantic's Health channel. His work has appeared in TIME, People Asia, and Fast Company.

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