Modern life is busy; sometimes people just want a meal that is fast, affordable, and satisfying. This comes at a cost to our health. While fast food is certainly convenient, it is not health food. The effects of the drive-through extend far beyond the waistline, harming your cardiovascular system, kidneys, and more. New research suggests that eating too many cheeseburgers and fries can even increase the chances of male infertility.

According to Austin male infertility specialist Dr. Parviz Kavoussi, male fertility can be caused by a variety of lifestyle-related factors including endocrine or hormonal balance and environmental toxin exposure. A recently published study at George Washington University confirms this, finding that people who eat fast food regularly have higher levels of certain environmental toxins called phthalates, which have been linked to male infertility and a wide range of endocrine disorders. Eating fast food may affect your health in ways no one previously realized.


Fast Food and the Endocrine System

In this study, researchers looked at the levels of phthalates in people who had consumed fast food in the last 24 hours compared to those who had not done so. People who ate fast food, which the study defined as food served at a restaurant without wait staff, had much higher levels. If they ate it occasionally, their urine phthalate levels were 15-20% higher. Those who enjoyed it regularly saw a surprising 24-39% increase. With around one-third of the United States eating fast food on any given day, this could have serious implications for American public health.

What does this mean for male fertility and reproductive health? Phthalates have been linked to male infertility as well as health problems ranging from diabetes to allergies. The use of phthalates is restricted in many countries, while the US government warns these chemicals are likely carcinogens. Phthalates are not added to fast food, but rather produced by the preparation and cooking methods commonly used in these foods. The equipment used in manufacturing and cooking these foods appears to be the culprit, as much of it is made of plastics that leach this chemical.


How Can Phthalates Affect Male Fertility?

Phthalates are a chemical used to make plastic more flexible so it does not break as easily. They are commonly found not just in fast food, but in many different kinds of processed and packaged foods. While common, these additives may not be as safe as food manufacturers originally thought. The CDC has released a fact sheet on phthalates that suggests they can pose a particular risk to reproductive health.

People are usually exposed to phthalates by eating foods that have had contact with plastic bearing this chemical. Once in the human body, phthalates are broken down into smaller particles that interfere with hormonal activity that regulates the endocrine and reproductive systems. While the exact way they do this is not known, phthalate metabolites appear to mimic certain hormones. Phthalates are then quickly cleared from the blood and excreted in urine, which is why urine tests are a good indicator of exposure. Small amounts of phthalate exposure are inevitable in the modern world due to the prevalence of plastic, but consistent exposure can lead to long term effects.


Can Restricting Fast Food Improve Male Infertility?

It’s important to remember that this study only examines one aspect of male fertility. Male infertility can result from genetics, lifestyle, one’s environment, and a variety of other factors. While choosing fresh homemade foods will not treat many kinds of infertility by itself, it is a good lifestyle choice that is recommended for couples that are trying to conceive.


Foods for Male Fertility

Diet affects every aspect of our health, including male fertility. What kinds of foods can increase your chances of conceiving? According to Dr. Kavoussi, the following foods may help:

  • Red and orange fruits and vegetables. Foods such as apricots and red bell peppers are high in vitamin A, which improves male fertility by nurturing healthier sperm. Men who are deficient in this vitamin tend to have slow and sluggish sperm.
  • Foods rich in vitamin C. Vitamin C improves the viability of your sperm due to its antioxidant properties. It prevents cell damage that can keep your sperm from optimal function. If you don’t enjoy citrus fruit, you can get vitamin C from kale, asparagus, and a variety of plant foods.
  • Lean meats and nuts. Found in turkey, beef, eggs, nuts, and other protein foods, zinc is essential for male fertility. Low zinc levels cause low testosterone and a lower sperm count.
  • Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Consuming foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids is important to almost every aspect of your health including fertility. The semen of men with infertility has been found to have much lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids than that of men who are fertile.
  • Green leafy vegetables. Women are supposed to take a folic acid supplement throughout their fertile years because of this vitamin’s effect on the development of a baby’s spinal cord. However, it is just as important for men who are trying to conceive. Men with low levels of folic acid have more sperm with chromosomal abnormalities.

All men who suspect they are infertile should talk to a male infertility specialist about which lifestyle modifications and treatments apply to their unique health situation.