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High Sugar in Men & Sperm Count

by
author image Valerie Webber
Valerie Webber started out as a technical writer in 1994 and transitioned into journalism in 2004. Her work has appeared in “The Gainesville Times,” “The Fauquier Times-Democrat,” “Merial Selections” and “SIDEROADS” magazine. Webber is also certified by the American Council on Exercise as a group fitness instructor.
High Sugar in Men & Sperm Count
Having few sperm decreases the odds of pregnancy. Photo Credit Jade Brookbank/Photodisc/Getty Images

There is no shortage of speculation about the causes of infertility and declining birth rates in industrialized countries. Although the Mayo Clinic says that most fertility problems aren't preventable, there are some lifestyle factors that put you at risk for low sperm count. For example, a high-sugar diet can contribute to obesity, which is linked to fertility problems.

Background

High Sugar in Men & Sperm Count
A study examined old journal articles to find historical information about sperm counts. Photo Credit espermatozoides-01 image by Paco Ayala from <a href='http://www.fotolia.com'>Fotolia.com</a>

In 1992, a study in the British Medical Journal, titled "Evidence for Decreasing Quality of Semen During Past 50 years," earned a lot of attention and plenty of disagreement, but its main idea was that men in industrialized nations have generally been producing fewer sperm, and the ones they are producing aren't quite as good as they used to be. The study did not attempt to explain the cause of the decrease.

Causes

High Sugar in Men & Sperm Count
Sugar is common in the American diet, from sodas to processed foods. Photo Credit lump sugar in a glass sugar-basin image by Maria Brzostowska from <a href='http://www.fotolia.com'>Fotolia.com</a>

According to the Mayo Clinic, there are a range of possible causes for low sperm counts, including poor health and obesity. Consuming excessive amounts of sugar contributes to many health issues, including obesity and type 2 diabetes. No one knows for sure whether high sugar is a direct cause of low sperm counts, or if it just contributes to other issues affecting fertility.

Research

High Sugar in Men & Sperm Count
Rats and mice fed a particular imino sugar had low sperm counts and more deformed sperm. Photo Credit mouse image by timur1970 from <a href='http://www.fotolia.com'>Fotolia.com</a>

A 2009 study in Pharmacogenomics found a link between a sugar-mimic compound and reduced sperm counts. This compound is called an imino sugar, which has a different chemical structure from normal table sugar. It is so frequently tested that it is known to make rats and mice infertile. In 2002, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published a study suggesting that this sugar could have potential as a male contraceptive.

Limitations

These highly controlled laboratory studies involved rats and mice, not people. Although imino sugars are the frequent subject of laboratory studies -- including human studies -- the research does not address regular table sugar and its effects on sperm count and fertility.

Prevention

If you are trying to conceive a child, the Mayo Clinic advises following a healthy lifestyle. If you are struggling with excessive weight, which is a risk factor for infertility, look for ways to cut back on your refined-sugar intake. The research doesn't say for certain that eating less sugar will immediately increase your sperm count, but it will reduce your calorie intake to help manage weight. Even if it doesn't help your sperm count, reducing table sugar and managing weight will improve many other aspects of your health -- from blood pressure to diabetes risk.

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