Alcohol, and other boosters of male fertility

Cheers to male fertility.
Cheers to male fertility.
Image: REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo
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Good news for the steak-and-red-wine guys: moderate drinking and meat consumption may increase male fertility, according to studies presented this morning at a meeting of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.

The findings come from a slew of recent research studying how male nutrition affects fertility. Here’s a roundup of some of that work, as well as some older studies.

Say yes to fruits and vegetables, but watch out for pesticides

Using a sample of 155 men, researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health and Massachusetts General Hospital found that those who ate more fruits and vegetables had greater success rates of in-vitro fertilization. But they also found that those who consumed the most pesticides had a 70% lower sperm count and 64% fewer normally shaped sperm. This makes for a convincing argument to go organic.

Be careful with caffeine

The effects of caffeine on sperm count and quality have been studied extensively, but it has nonetheless been difficult to draw conclusions due to potential lifestyle differences that might be associated with caffeine intake. In a recent study, Harvard researchers found that after adjusting for differences in age, body mass index, and other health factors, men in the highest caffeine-intake range—more than 265 milligrams, or about three cups of coffee, per day—were half as likely to see their sperm result in successful in-vitro fertilization compared with men in the lowest range.

Have a drink, but don’t go crazy

The same study found that couples were more likely to achieve pregnancy through IVF when the men were alcohol drinkers. Another study from the University of Rochester Medical Center also found that drinkers reported overall better sexual function than non-drinkers.

But have restraint: the toll that alcohol can take on sperm count—even in moderate quantities—is well-documented.

Eat meat, but watch the fat

A study out of Loma Linda Medical School found that meat-eaters exhibited higher sperm concentrations and motility than vegetarians and vegans. This is an early finding and should be taken with a grain of salt, as the research sample included only 31 vegetarians and vegans. Moreover, prior research has shown that diets high in fat—such as those heavy in red meat—can be detrimental to sperm count.

Overall, the research suggests that male fertility follows a general health principal: everything in moderation. The best things you can do for your fertility are also some of the best things for your health in general: don’t be obese and don’t be a smoker.