Processed meat intake is unfavorably and fish intake favorably associated with semen quality indicators among men attending a fertility clinic

J Nutr. 2014 Jul;144(7):1091-8. doi: 10.3945/jn.113.190173. Epub 2014 May 21.


Emerging literature suggests that men's diets may affect spermatogenesis as reflected in semen quality indicators, but literature on the relation between meat intake and semen quality is limited. Our objective was to prospectively examine the relation between meat intake and indicators of semen quality. Men in subfertile couples presenting for evaluation at the Massachusetts General Hospital Fertility Center were invited to participate in an ongoing study of environmental factors and fertility. A total of 155 men completed a validated food-frequency questionnaire and subsequently provided 338 semen samples over an 18-mo period from 2007-2012. We used linear mixed regression models to examine the relation between meat intake and semen quality indicators (total sperm count, sperm concentration, progressive motility, morphology, and semen volume) while adjusting for potential confounders and accounting for within-person variability across repeat semen samples. Among the 155 men (median age: 36.1 y; 83% white, non-Hispanic), processed meat intake was inversely related to sperm morphology. Men in the highest quartile of processed meat intake had, on average, 1.7 percentage units (95% CI: -3.3, -0.04) fewer morphologically normal sperm than men in the lowest quartile of intake (P-trend = 0.02). Fish intake was related to higher sperm count and percentage of morphologically normal sperm. The adjusted mean total sperm count increased from 102 million (95% CI: 80, 131) in the lowest quartile to 168 million (95% CI: 136, 207) sperm in the highest quartile of fish intake (P-trend = 0.005). Similarly, the adjusted mean percentages of morphologically normal sperm for men in increasing quartiles of fish intake were 5.9 (95% CI: 5.0, 6.8), 5.3 (95% CI: 4.4, 6.3), 6.3 (95% CI: 5.2, 7.4), and 7.5 (95% CI: 6.5, 8.5) (P-trend = 0.01). Consuming fish may have a positive impact on sperm counts and morphology, particularly when consumed instead of processed red meats.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Cohort Studies
  • Diet / adverse effects
  • Fishes*
  • Functional Food*
  • Humans
  • Infertility, Male / epidemiology*
  • Infertility, Male / etiology
  • Infertility, Male / physiopathology
  • Infertility, Male / prevention & control
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Massachusetts / epidemiology
  • Meat Products / adverse effects*
  • Nutrition Assessment
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Seafood*
  • Semen Analysis
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Shellfish
  • Spermatogenesis
  • Spermatozoa / pathology*
  • Spermatozoa / physiology