Male infertility is often a mystery, and in many cases, problems are due to a culmination of factors, such as temperature, cell phones in pockets, and laptop computer use on the lap . A series of recent studies may have uncovered one more of the factors that can limit successful IVF fertilization: processed meats.


The Studies

The cohort study conducted in 2013 examined the dietary habits of 156 male infertility patients at Massachusetts General Hospital. They compared their sperm quality levels with their reported dietary habits. Even when adjusting for age, weight, and other health factors, the men who ate 1-3 servings of processed meat per day, such as lunch meats, bacon, sausage, nuggets/chicken patties and fast food meats tended to have lower sperm quality. The men who ate fatty cold water fish on a regular basis like salmon, herring and tuna had a 34% better sperm quality level than the average men, who were neither large fish eaters nor heavy processed meat eaters.

In 2015, a combined study done by Harvard and Huazhong University of Science and Technology in China looked at 141 men who were also undergoing fertility treatments. Similar dietary questions were given, and compared it instead to successful fertilization rates. Men who tended to eat chicken over processed meat were 13 percent more likely to have a successful IVF fertilization (with or without ICSI) than the rest of the men, and those who ate the least amount of processed meats were 28 percent more likely to be successful in IVF without ICSI. Success rates with ICSI did not show significant differences in any of the dietary groups.

What This Study Suggests

These studies are among the first to reveal any form of link between quality of diet and fertility. Though doctors have been recommending a healthy diet for many years, this suggests it goes beyond three square meals with a protein, carbohydrate, and vegetable component to each. Instead, the quality of the ingredients as well as the frequency with which certain meat products are eaten vs. others must be considered. Many foods advertise themselves to be health foods, like frozen dinners, but contain the same kinds of processed meat as were mentioned in the study. Fresh, unprocessed food, especially fish and poultry, have been initially identified as likely ways to either increase or maintain male fertility levels. As this is very preliminary research, much more will need to be done to confirm.

What These Studies Do Not Suggest

This is a preliminary set of studies, which were done in an interview style. The quantity of food and reliability of those surveyed is not confirmed, and this form of study cannot have the statistical rigor of one that would maintain strict, verified dietary control of its subjects. However, the lifestyle restrictions that would be required for such a study makes it unlikely in the future. Because of this, there is a link between sperm quality and fertilization rates and specific kinds of meat consumption that cannot yet be confirmed.

The specifics of why this may occur have also not been discovered in this study. It is unclear whether there is an additive in processed meats that may interfere with hormones, quality sperm production or fertilization mechanics, or if the foods are missing or blocking absorption of a crucial nutrient. However, this series of studies opens the door to follow all of these hypotheses and more in an attempt to better understand why this link may exist.

Recommendations from Dr. Parviz Kavoussi

Though this information is still preliminary, the results imply a rather common-sense recommendation that has already been a common part of fertility practice suggestions. Couples who are trying to conceive should both eat good, high quality proteins, fruits, vegetables and grains.

This work is not the only thing that can influence male fertility, and men who would like to have successful conceptions should follow other recommendations in conjunction with this. This includes taking any supplements or medications recommended by your fertility doctor, exercise, and quitting smoking. Though these may not guarantee a successful conception, they all will increase the statistical odds.