Well-fed sperm are happy sperm

When it comes to in vitro fertilizations, well-fed sperm are happy sperm. That finding comes from a study in which what men ate (and drank) was linked to their partner's chance of becoming pregnant during fertility treatment.

A fertility-friendly diet is one that's high in fruit and grains and low in red meat, alcohol and coffee, Brazilian researchers reported online in Fertility and Sterility.

While previous work has linked weight, smoking, and drinking with reproductive problems in women, it hasn't been clear if the same applies to men during IVF treatment.

"We talk about having a healthy lifestyle and trying to eliminate any of these things that are bad for health, but I think most of the emphasis tends to be on making sure the woman is as healthy as possible," said Dr Lynn Westphal, a women's health and fertility specialist at Stanford University Medical Center in Palo Alto, California who wasn't involved in the new research.

"The new study reinforces that it's important for both the male and the female to be eliminating as many bad things in their diet or their life as possible," Dr Westphal said.

Semen samples analysed

The researchers recruited 250 men who, together with their partners, were undergoing intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) at one centre. Researchers asked the men how often they ate a range of foods, as well as how much they drank and smoked. They also analysed semen samples at every step of the IVF process.

Eggs were successfully fertilised in about three-quarters of the treatments, and just under 40% of women became pregnant during the study. From the speed of their sperm to their partner's chance of pregnancy, men who consumed alcohol and ate poorly had worse results.

Being overweight and drinking alcohol were linked to lower sperm concentration and motility. Smoking was tied only to negative effects on motility. Alcohol and coffee were both linked to a lower chance of fertilizations. Embryo implantation rates, as well as pregnancy rates, were significantly lower when men consumed a lot of red meat.

On the other hand, eating more cereal grains was associated with improved sperm concentration and motility, and fruit was also linked to a speed and agility boost in sperm.

"I think this is really interesting data that lifestyle factors for the men, even when you're doing ICSI, are significant," Dr Westphal said. "This is probably more of a difference than most people would have thought."

Semen quality improved

The findings are consistent with the idea that certain vitamins, minerals and amino acids may help maintain or improve semen quality, while too much alcohol and certain hormones in processed meat could be harmful to sperm, wrote Dr Edson Borges, Jr. from the Fertility-Assisted Fertilizations Centre in Sao Paulo and his colleagues.

Dr Westphal pointed out that other behaviours in men, such as spending a lot of time in hot tubs, could hinder fertility treatment success. She added that any diet and lifestyle changes men might make to try to improve their sperm will need a few months have an effect – so it's not just about eating better for a few days before IVF.

In couples undergoing fertility treatment, Dr Borges and his colleagues concluded, both men and women should know that their diets and lifestyles may affect their chance of having a successful pregnancy.

(Reuters Health, Genevra Pittman, November 2011)

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