NEW YORK - When it comes to in vitro fertilization, well-fed sperm are happy sperm, according to a new study that found what men eat (and drink) is linked to the chances their partner will become 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 report in the journal Fertility and Sterility.
While previous work has linked being too heavy or too thin, as well as 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.
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," Westphal, who wasn't involved in the research, told Reuters Health.
The new study involved 250 men who, together with their partners, were undergoing a type of fertility treatment called intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) at one center. Researchers asked the men how often they ate a range of foods, including fruits and vegetables, beans, grains, meat and fish, as well as how much they drank and smoked.
They also got semen samples from the men to analyze how healthy and well concentrated their sperm were and kept track of how every step of the IVF process went for each couple.
Eggs were successfully fertilized in about three-quarters of the treatments, and just under four in ten women got pregnant during the study.
From the speed of their sperm to their partner's chance of pregnancy, men who imbibed and ate poorly were slowed down on the fertility front.
Being overweight and drinking alcohol were linked to lower sperm concentration and motility -- how well sperm swam. Smoking was tied only to negative effects on motility. Alcohol and coffee were both linked to a lower chance of fertilization. Embryo implantation rates, as well as pregnancy rates, were significantly lower when men ate lots of red meat.
On the other hand, eating more cereal grains (such as wheat, oats or barley) 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," Westphal said. "This is probably more of a difference than most people would have thought."
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 Fertilization Center in Sao Paulo and his colleagues.
Westphal pointed out that other behaviors 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 are going to take a few months to pan out -- so it's not just about eating better for a few days before IVF.
In couples undergoing fertility treatment, 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.