Raising a child is tough, but bringing one into this world is equally challenging. With a rise in infertility, dependence on medical tech and IVF to conceive is increasing. But so is awareness on the factors that make getting pregnant so difficult. While a whole lot has been said about women and infertility, men and sperm quality and motility is rarely discussed.
However, this research is about to change all that
You see, a study published in the journal PLOS Biology, which gives new insight into the function of sperm, has been able to ascertain that men’s diet affect their sperm quality a whole lot. In fact, they also found that eating a diet rich in sugar regularly can harmfully impact sperm the most.
“We see that diet influences the motility of the sperm, and we can link the changes to specific molecules in them. Our study has revealed rapid effects that are noticeable after one to two weeks”, said study lead author Anita Ost from the Linkoping University in Sweden.
According to the researchers, sperm quality can be harmed by several environmental and lifestyle factors, of which obesity and related diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, are well-known risk factors for poor sperm quality.
In a previous study, the researchers showed that male fruit flies which had consumed excess sugar shortly before mating more often produced offspring who became overweight.
Similar studies on mice have suggested that small fragments of RNA known as tsRNA play a significant role in these epigenetic phenomena that appear in the next generation.
These RNA fragments are present in unusually large amounts in the sperm of many species–including humans, fruit flies and mice.
This study was initiated by the researchers to investigate whether a high consumption of sugar affects the RNA fragments in human sperm.
The research sample was fairly small: 15 normal, non-smoking young men who followed a diet in which they were given all food from the scientists for two weeks.
The diet was based on the Nordic Nutrition Recommendations for healthy eating with one exception: during the second week the researchers added sugar, corresponding to around 3.5 litres of fizzy drinks, or 450 grams of confectionery, every day.
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The sperm quality and other indicators of the participants’ health were investigated at the start of the study, after the first week (during which they ate a healthy diet), and after the second week (when the participants had additionally consumed large amounts of sugar).
At the beginning of the study, one third of the participants had low sperm motility.
Motility is one of several factors that influence sperm quality, and the fraction of people with low sperm motility in the study corresponded to that in the general population.
The researchers were surprised to discover that the sperm motility of all participants became normal during the study–with the most pronounced improvement becoming apparent after the first week.
The researchers added that though it is hard to pinpoint whether the effect was due to the healthy diet or the high sugar intake, the increase of sperm motility might have been a direct result of the healthy diet, which could have persisted into the second week when participants were also eating more sugar.
“The study shows that sperm motility can be changed in a short period, and seems to be closely coupled to diet. This has important clinical implications,” concludes Ost.