There’s a lot of advice out there about the ways a man’s diet can limit him when it comes to having children. We asked urologist Edmund Sabanegh, MD, Chairman of Urology and Director of Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Male Fertility, to help us separate fact from fiction.
Here are his answers to several of the most common questions about links between diet and erectile dysfunction (ED) or male infertility.
Q: Can my food choices cause ED?
A: High-fat diets and higher cholesterol levels are correlated with ED, which is largely caused by clogs in the small blood vessels. So the same things that cause heart disease can lead to ED. In fact, ED can often be the first sign of heart disease.
Q: Can drinking sugary sodas or eating a lot of sugar cause male infertility?
A: Eating or drinking a lot of sugar can lead to obesity, which is a risk factor for diabetes. Poorly controlled diabetes can impact male fertility. Obesity can also cause changes to many hormones including testosterone, which can also lower fertility.
Q: Can eating fatty foods contribute to infertility?
A: Diets that are high in fat seem to be associated with infertility. There are several studies to suggest this.
One study, in particular, compared young men who ate a Western diet to those who ate what the researchers called a “prudent” diet. The Western diet consisted of things like red meat and pizza. The prudent diet was fish, chicken, vegetables and whole grains. Those on the prudent diet had improved fertility and better sperm motility in general.
Q: Do I need to avoid sugary or fatty foods completely if I want to conceive or if I’m concerned about ED?
A: Fertility and erectile function are products of your overall health. One sugary soda or fatty meal here and there isn’t a problem. It’s an issue when you have a regular pattern of taking in high-fat or sugary food or drinks.
Q: Can pesticides from produce that isn’t organic lead to male infertility?
A: There’s evidence that workers exposed to pesticides can have lower fertility, but it’s hard to trace how much pesticide is in store-bought fruits and vegetables. What we do know is that pesticides, in general, can affect sperm count and motility in high enough doses.
Q: Is there a link between processed meats and male infertility?
A: Meats in general are high in fat and fat is an issue. Processed meats are higher in nitrates, which we believe can also affect the sperm.
Q: Are there other foods I should avoid when trying to conceive?
A: Foods that contain phytoestrogens, such as soy products, can change your estrogen levels and potentially lower fertility.
You also need to be careful about androgen supplements, bodybuilding agents and testosterone supplements. The World Health Organization is actually looking at testosterone as a potential male contraceptive because it turns off sperm production. So talk to your doctor before taking any type of supplement.
Q: Are there certain foods I should eat when trying to conceive?
A: Foods that are high in antioxidants, such as fruits and vegetables, may improve fertility in males.
Q: I’ve heard that caffeine can cause male infertility. Is that true?
A: I don’t believe caffeine is a significant issue unless you’re a very high consumer.