If you’re a vegetarian, you might want to reconsider your life-changing decision: your very posterity may be at stake, according to a US study.
Vegetarians are usually motivated by what they view as ideas of ‘cleaner’ eating. They intend to cleanse their system from animal-based food for a variety of reasons: some are prompted to do so by their strict adherence to the teachings of their religious groups, while yet others deem the eating habits to be greener. Do these eating habits actually promote healthier lifestyles and longer life spans? To elucidate the matter, the researchers of the new study set out to test whether vegetarians live longer because of healthier sperm counts. They had initially associated the longer lives of vegetarian Seventh-Day Adventists compared to the average Americans with the former’s vegetarian diets: the scientists hypothesised that the no-meat-only-veggies diet had a positive impact on the health of their sperms. However, their results showed otherwise.
“We found that diet does significantly affect sperm quality. Vegetarian and vegan diets were associated with much lower sperm counts than omnivorous diets,” said lead study author Eliza Orzylowska.“Although these people are not infertile, it is likely to play a factor in conception, particularly for couples who are trying to conceive naturally, the old-fashioned way.”
The vegetarians were shown to have only 50 million sperms per milliliter, as opposed to the usual 70 million per milliliter. Not only were the vegetarian sperms lower in number, but they also had reduced motility. While 60 % of the sperms of the meat eaters were active, only around 33 % of the vegetarian ones were active. The differences between the two types were significant enough.
The vegetarians might be having vitamin deficiencies, thereby affecting the health of their sperms: they may be facing a lack of vitamin B12. The latter is known to break down oestrogen, thereby keeping a high sperm count. The common B12 sources are beef and fish. Vegetarians might not be taking vitamin supplements and thus facing this problem.
Also, the high proportion of the hormone phyto-oestrogen in soy (a food widely consumed by vegetarians) might be the cause for this discrepancy. Phyto-oestrogen is similar to a female hormone and it impedes the production of sperms.
“For children who have grown up with those kind of diets, it may have impacted on sperm quality from puberty,” said Orzylowska.
“It’s hard to tell people not to be vegetarians if they are trying to conceive, but I would caution against using soy, at least for 74 days beforehand, which is the time it takes for sperm to be replaced.”
Another independent study done by Harvard researchers reached a similar conclusion. The scientists of this study argued that the presence of pesticide residues in the food of vegetarians might be leading to reduced fertility.
“Men who want to optimize their reproductive health need to take care take care to choose fruits and vegetables grown with lower levels of pesticides, which are less contaminated. Nutrition is important to good reproductive health, but food that is good for you can contain other substances, not so good for you,” commented Paul J. Turek, president of the Society for Male Reproduction and Infertility.