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Processed Meat Consumption is Not Good for Sperm’s Fertilizing Ability

By: ASRM Office of Public Affairs

originally published in Fertility and Sterility in Press

August 3, 2015

Boston researchers have found that, among infertility patients having IVF, men's poultry intake is related to better fertilization rates in IVF cycles with and without intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI). However, men's consumption of processed meat, like bacon, canned meat products, and sausages, was related to poorer fertilization rates in IVF. Processed meat intake had no effect on fertilization in cycles using ICSI.

The study was part of the Environment and Reproductive Health (EARTH) Study, a prospective cohort study of subfertile couples, focused on identifying environmental factors impacting human fertility.

Between 2007 and 2014, 141 men and their female partners underwent 246 total IVF cycles, with and without ICSI, at Massachusetts General Hospital. The men answered questionnaires on their diet, including total meat intake and the types of meat they ate. Poultry (31%) and processed meats (22%) accounted for more than half of the total meat intake. Three men reported not consuming any meat.

The men were divided into four groups according to total meat intake and the researchers examined the association of their meat consumption with fertilization, embryo implantation, clinical pregnancy and live birth rates.

The men's total meat consumption was not associated with any better or worse fertilization rate. However the fertilization rate among men in the highest quartile of poultry intake was 13% higher than that of men in the lowest quartile of poultry intake for both IVF using conventional insemination and IVF cycles that used ICSI (78% vs. 65%).

Processed meat intake was inversely related to fertilization rate in conventional IVF cycles but not in ICSI cycles. In conventional IVF cycles, couples in which the male partners ate the least processed meat had 82% of their eggs fertilize, while those in which the men ate the most processed meat had a 54% fertilization rate.

Men's total meat intake, including consumption of specific types of meat, was not associated with embryo implantation, clinical pregnancy or live birth rates.

ASRM President Rebecca Sokol, MD, MPH remarked, "Many studies have shown that diet can affect human fertility, but our diets are so complex that it is difficult to tease out how particular food types may affect reproductive outcomes. This study suggests that the type of meat a man consumes may influence his sperm's ability to fertilize an egg. Eating a healthy diet is an easy change to make, and worth making for reproductive health as well as overall health."

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