New Study: Bacon May Hurt Male Fertility

Processed meats, testosterone supplements problematic

Oh, the world can be cruel. Those guys out there who want to be fathers, we’re sorry to report on a new study suggesting that bacon may hurt your fertility.

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Recently published research suggests that men who eat more processed meats – including hamburgers and hot dogs, as well as bacon – might have a harder time becoming fathers.

The study, published in Fertility and Sterility, examined the diets of male patients at the Massachusetts General Hospital Fertility Center.

Here’s what researchers found:

  • Men who ate more processed red meat – hot dogs, hamburgers and bacon – had fewer normal-shaped sperm.
  • On the other hand, semen from men who ate more white meat fish – cod, halibut, haddock – had a higher percentage of sperm with a normal shape.

The study is part of a growing body of evidence that links lifestyle habits to fertility, says urologist Edmund Sabanegh, MD. “Increasingly, we are seeing that fertility is a picture of our general health, and if you don’t live a healthy lifestyle, it can hurt fertility,” he says.

Western diet not ideal for sperm health

A typical Western diet, which is high in red meat and refined grains, is also associated with lower-quality semen. On the other hand, a diet that boosts sperm quality includes more vegetables, fruit, whole grains, legumes, fish and poultry.

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“A diet high in processed meat may be just one piece of what’s going on with these patients,” says Dr. Sabanegh. “The hard part of these studies is that we don’t know if infertility is related to specific foods, or to the patients’ overall lifestyles,” he says.

For this reason, he says the jury is still out about whether smoked products or foods containing nitrates have a negative effect on male fertility.

Testosterone ‘more of a contraceptive’

Dr. Sabanegh says he sees many men who take body-building nutritional supplements containing testosterone, assuming they’ll have the added benefit of increased sperm production. But this is not always the case.

“People think they’re doing the right thing by taking testosterone, but, ironically, testosterone is more appropriate as a contraceptive than as a fertility enhancement,” he says.

When you take a testosterone supplement, he explains, the testosterone boost tricks your body into thinking that sperm levels are where they should be, and it shuts down sperm production.

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“It doesn’t happen in everyone, but I see it in a large percentage of my patients, especially those who are into body-building,” says Dr. Sabanegh.

Turn to good old-fashioned wisdom

While we may never be able to pinpoint exactly what foods men should eat to improve fertility, what your parents told you about healthy living is probably true, Dr. Sabanegh says.

“We know a high-fat diet and a sedentary lifestyle aren’t good for fertility, and we also know that an overall healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise and a diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables seems to also enhance fertility,” he says.

“A balanced diet, regular exercise and maintaining a healthy weight are what’s important,” he adds.

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