Do Vegetarians Have Lower Sperm Counts Than Meat-Eaters?

In case you missed it, the headlines this week had concerning news for plant-based guys. Some of the choice quotes from stories about a study interpreted as suggesting meat-eaters have higher sperm counts read, "Vegans may be harming their chance of having children," "A diet rich in fruits and vegetables may harm fertility," and "It is likely to play a factor in conception, particularly for couples who are trying to conceive naturally, the old-fashioned way."

Have I missed something while making hospital rounds, because I didn't know there was an old-fashioned way!

Why all the excitement, and was the media fair and accurate? In reality, a presentation will be made at a medical meeting in Hawaii, which supplies the country with a good deal of fruits and vegetables, reporting that in the Adventist Health Study out of Loma Linda, California, omnivore men had an average sperm count of 70 million/mL, while the combination of vegetarian and vegan men averaged 50 million/mL.

When I say a presentation will be made, that means no one has yet reviewed the abstract, and no one has read a peer-reviewed article, as there is none. So this is very preliminary data. The authors proposed a theory that the plant-eaters might be consuming soy, which has very mild phytoestrogenic properties, instead of meat, but there's no data to support this so far.

Furthermore, normal sperm count is over 20 million/mL, according to the Duke Fertility Center. So all the men studied had plenty of firepower. There's also no fertility data in the study, and no one has ever reported that Seventh-day Adventists (SDA) or any other population of healthy eaters suffer excess fertility issues.

In fairness, the hundreds of articles on the web this week slamming plant-based diets as a "fertility risk" did mention that SDAs do live 10 years longer than average Americans, so it appears the trade-off of 3,650 extra sunrises may be worth a small drop in sperm density if this data is substantiated.

Largely lost in the media blitz is another presentation at the same meeting, stating that men in a fertility clinic had a better chance of conceiving if they drank an average of a pint a beer a day compared to the lowest group of drinkers. Many men have known that a few alcoholic drinks increases the odds of the "old-fashioned way" happening at all, but how it works in a fertility clinic will require full publication of the data.

Understanding the SDA data will also require full publication of the study, but I did find other studies on this topic, including:

1. A low intake of antioxidant nutrients is associated with poor semen quality.

2. There's a positive relation between total intake of antioxidants like lycopene and B-carotene and sperm count and volume.

3. Frequent intake of foods like meat products and milk may negatively impact semen quality.

4. Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are found in the semen of infertile men, and fish eaters have the highest concentrations.

5. Processed meat intake is unfavorably associated with semen quality.

6. Sugar-sweetened beverages are negatively associated with sperm motility.

7. Cooking of meat produces a number of heterocyclic amines with one of them, PhlP, having strong estrogenic properties.

It is clear that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is the foundation of avoiding chronic diseases, extending healthy life spans, and possibly optimizing fertility. Many anecdotal reports from Hippocrates Health Institute and other centers indicate that predominantly raw and organic plant-based diets have solved infertility issues for many couples.

The recent ruckus raises questions on the integrity of reports in the media, particularly as they relate to meat versus non-meat dietary patterns; for example, why did butter make the cover of TIME magazine this summer?.

I would advise plant-eating men who are wondering about this week's flurry of reports to remain rock hard in their commitment to their personal and environmental health, and their concern over animal cruelty.

Ready to learn more about how to unlock the power of food to heal your body, prevent disease & achieve optimal health? Register now for our FREE Functional Nutrition Webinar with Kelly LeVeque.

Joel Kahn, M.D.

Cardiologist & Best-Selling Author
Dr. Kahn is the founder of the Kahn Center for Cardiac Longevity. He is a summa cum laude graduate of the University of Michigan School of Medicine and is a professor of medicine at Wayne State University School of Medicine. He is owner of GreenSpace Cafe in Ferndale, Michigan. His books, The Whole Heart Solution, Dead Execs Don't Get Bonuses, and Vegan Sex, all No. 1 best-sellers, are available for sale now. His public TV special, The Whole Heart Solution, is playing nationally now.
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Joel Kahn, M.D.

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