Processed Red Meat May Affect Male Fertility
Consumption of high quality proteins (such as meat obtained from animal sources) have always been known as a source of health and wellness in men. Several clinical studies suggests that consumption of protein-rich diet stimulates the release of anabolic hormones (such as testosterone), which directly boosts male fertility. However, latest research indicates that poor dietary choices or consumption of processed red meat can negate the positive effects of animal proteins on the reproductive health and can also affect fertility in the long term (1).
Processed Red Meat And Male Fertility
According to latest estimates, about one in six couples within United States experiences difficulty in getting pregnant. It has been observed that inadequacy of semen is responsible in about 50% cases of infertility (2). Various modifiable risk factors (such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, stressful occupational environment, obesity, etc.) are strongly linked to poor semen health, but unfortunately, a lot of men are still unaware of the impact of dietary choices on the reproductive health.
According to a new report published in the peer reviewed Journal of Nutrition (1), investigators suggested that nutritional and dietary choices deeply impacts spermatogenesis. Based on a study conducted in 155 men over a period of 5 years (2007–2012), investigators discovered that consumption of processed red meat is inversely related to the semen quality in men. In other words, group of men with highest consumption of processed red meat had 1.7% less motile sperms than group of men with lowest consumption of processed meat. Same is true for sperm morphology and other indicators of semen quality.
How Processed Red Meat Intake Affects Male Fertility?
Processed meat sources include; pepperoni, hamburgers, ham, hot dogs, pastrami, salami, bacon, sausages and other canned products. Basically processes that are used to increase the shelf-life of meat (such as salting, curing, smoking, mixing with chemical colors, additives, preservatives etc.) can lead to impaired fertility.
Investigators believes that high LDL content can explain the effect of processed red meat consumption on the semen quality. Prior research and clinical surveys indicates that red meat is high in saturated fatty acids, which are negatively related to sperm count (3). In addition, other mechanisms that can explain this negative association are:
Red meat is also high in copper content and it is no secret that high copper content in the semen is linked to poor sperm motility and morphology as a result of oxidative damage (1).
Processed meat is high in carcinogenic elements (such as nitrosamines, heterocyclic amines, and other compounds) that can lead to a variety of cancers.
Several other studies suggests that people who consume processed meat on regular basis are at 44% higher risk of dying when compared to the control group.
It is noteworthy that intake of red meat is an independent and significant risk factor. Study conducted by Spanish researchers suggested that sperm count is 37% lower in young, physical active and otherwise healthy men who consume red meat more frequently, when compared to the control group (with lower consumption of red meat).
How To Obtain Maximum Health Benefits From Your Dietary Meats?
Compared to red meat, fish and other related sources of animal protein are far more superior in terms of nutritive value and health benefits. Afeiche and associates (1) discovered that the age-adjusted, average count of morphologically normal sperms increased from 102 million/ ejaculate in men with lowest consumption of fish to more than 168 million/ ejaculate in men with higher consumption of fish as a preferred source of animal proteins.
The positive effects are mediated by high content of omega-3 fatty acids. Testis and other parts of reproductive machinery have a very high content of long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (or PUFA), suggesting a very active metabolism of fatty acids. In addition, synthesis and maturation of sperm DNA also requires high influx of PUFA, which explains why fish consumption is associated with superior semen quality.
Other Helpful Recommendations
Always opt for organic and grass-fed meat.
Avoid all processed/ packaged/ cured sources of meat (regardless of the source meat is obtained from).
Make sure the meat is well-cooked to minimize the risk of parasitic infestations.
Although fish is a highly valuable source of animal proteins and lipids, yet it is imperative to keep in mind that fish and other seafood are high in mercury. Therefore, speak to a registered dietitian to learn more about recommended portion size and ideal frequency of consumption (according to your age, demographic profile and nutritional rquirements).
1. Afeiche, M. C., Gaskins, A. J., Williams, P. L., Toth, T. L., Wright, D. L., Tanrikut, C., … & Chavarro, J. E. (2014). Processed meat intake is unfavorably and fish intake favorably associated with semen quality indicators among men attending a fertility clinic. The Journal of nutrition, 144(7), 1091-1098.
2. Thoma, M. E., McLain, A. C., Louis, J. F., King, R. B., Trumble, A. C., Sundaram, R., & Louis, G. M. B. (2013). Prevalence of infertility in the United States as estimated by the current duration approach and a traditional constructed approach. Fertility and sterility, 99(5), 1324-1331.
3. Attaman, J. A., Toth, T. L., Furtado, J., Campos, H., Hauser, R., & Chavarro, J. E. (2012). Dietary fat and semen quality among men attending a fertility clinic. Human Reproduction, des065.
4. Mendiola, J., Torres-Cantero, A. M., Moreno-Grau, J. M., Ten, J., Roca, M., Moreno-Grau, S., & Bernabeu, R. (2009). Food intake and its relationship with semen quality: a case-control study. Fertility and sterility, 91(3), 812-818.
5. Renata Micha, R., Wallace, S. K., & Mozaffarian, D. (2010). Red and processed meat consumption and risk of incident coronary heart disease, stroke, and diabetes mellitus.