Researchers recently revealed that men who regularly took fish oil supplements, containing Omega-3 fatty acids, experienced improvements in the quality of their sperm. The study, conducted by Harvard Medical School in Boston, examined the diets of 99 male participants, currently enrolled in a fertility clinic.
The aim was to determine the impact of a typical American diet, which is high in saturated fats, on the participant's sperm quality. Findings concluded that males consuming the most saturated fat evidenced 43% fewer sperm and a 38% reduction in sperm concentration, compared to participants who placed in the bottom third levels of fat intake. Additionally, researchers discovered males who tested highest in omega-3 fatty acids demonstrated enhanced sperm quality.
Reportedly, experts warned media inflated the potential of fish oil and male fertility. They pointed out the number of participants and duration of the study was inadequate to validate the impact of a high-fat diet, in relation to quality of sperm. In their opinion, a study consisting of more male participants, who are followed over a longer period of time, is necessary. Otherwise, the media's exaggerated opinions could not be confirmed or denied.
Further, they contended while this small study did not verify a diet high in saturated fat can reduce male fertility, it does support a balanced diet is vital for total-body health.
Details of the Harvard Study
The data was gathered by means of a "cross-sectional" investigation. Or, researchers examined participant's diet and quality of semen concurrently. The scientific community supports such a study cannot possibly prove what came first - the high-fat diet or the low quality sperm. This apparently substantiated their thesis that both issues must be observed over a longer duration, in order to determine an accurate outcome.
Size and time factor of the study deemed it impossible for data to reveal whether those participants commonly ate a high-fat diet or the unhealthy diet aggressively caused reduction in sperm quality. It was suggested a larger study might be conducted where researchers determine sperm quality before and after diet modifications.
What were the Criteria?
The study was conducted from survey data collected concerning the average number of times male participants had consumed certain foods, drinks and supplements during the past year.
Following a 48-hour abstinence period, semen specimens were gathered and within 45 minutes, researchers tested sperm concentration and percentage of active sperm (motility).
From 23 of the total participants, levels of fatty acids were evaluated.
The 99 men were further categorized according to diet and quality of semen:
- Calories from fats designated as low, intermediate and high consumption.
- Categories from kinds of fats were considered - saturated, polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, Omega-3 and 6.
- Age, BMI, smoker or non-smoker, caffeine and alcohol ingestion and total calorie intake analyzed.
The study was based on the researcher's theory that sperm concentration is negatively impacted by the common Western diet, which is high in saturated fats. They found live sperm concentration is enhanced concurrently with levels of omega-3 fatty acids. Further, a larger percentage of sperm looked normal in participants taking supplements or eating dietary omega-3 in large amounts.
It is interesting to note that a majority of the study participants were overweight; however, only those consuming high amounts of saturated fat evidenced lower concentration of sperm. This is a significant finding because heretofore studies have not quantified high consumption of dietary fats.
Various Studies of Male Infertility in Conjunction with Omega-3 Fatty Acids
A 2010 study, conducted in Iran, was purportedly the first one to conclude positive relationships between omega-3 fatty acids, male fertility and quality of sperm. Details were published in the journal, Clinical Nutrition.
The Iran study followed 150 males to discern those who were infertile evidenced sperm with lower amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, than their fertile counterparts. Researchers suggested further studies are indicated to evaluate the indication of omega-3 supplements as an alternative therapy for infertility occurring in males.
Infertile mice were observed by the University of Illinois, which ultimately determined the effectiveness of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in reversing irregularities in quality of their sperm. Omega-3 supplements, which contain DHA, were given to the mice subjects.
The researchers observed mice lacking the gene that facilitates DHA production in the body. All mice produced low quantity and quality sperm. When supplements containing DHA were introduced, the condition reversed itself.
Several small studies have demonstrated that Omega-3 is beneficial for infertile men. Before mainstream medicine adopts this natural therapy, larger and longer studies have been recommended.