Can Food Make You Infertile? Foods to Eat and Avoid.

Ice cream, tofu, low-fat milk, spinach? You won’t believe which foods researchers say might hurt—or increase—your chances of having a baby. Anneli Rufus of The Daily Beast reports.

1. Men who drink at least a quart of cola daily have sperm counts almost 30 percent lower than men who drink no cola.

The Danish study that yielded this stat suggests that the caffeine in cola hinders sperm. “However, in a Petri dish, caffeine enhances sperm movement,” says obstetrician Niels Lauersen, co-author of Eat, Love, Get Pregnant: A Couple’s Guide to Boosting Fertility and Having a Healthy Baby. “So I would not discount the high-fructose corn syrup found in these drinks as possibly being the real culprit. First, studies show too much sugar can lead to insulin resistance, which disrupts fertility. Second, powerful pesticides used in America’s cornfields—including Atrazine—have been shown in studies to be endocrine disrupters. Male corn farmers who regularly work with Atrazine are found to have lower sperm counts.”

Tina Kold Jensen, et al. “Caffeine Intake and Semen Quality in a Population of 2,554 Young Danish Men.” American Journal of Epidemiology, 171 (8): 883-891.

2. Women who eat lots of low-fat dairy products face an 85 percent higher risk of ovulatory infertility than women who consume little or no low-fat dairy products.

Failure to ovulate is a common cause of infertility. The Harvard-affiliated study that yielded this stat found this condition strikingly high in women who consumed two or more daily servings of low-fat dairy products. Because past fertility studies on milk were inconclusive, “we compared low- and full-fat dairy products as an exercise in thoroughness,” says Jorge Chavarro, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard University and coauthor of this study and ofThe Fertility Diet: Groundbreaking Research Reveals Natural Ways to Boost Ovulation and Improve Your Chances of Getting Pregnant. “These findings were extremely surprising,” Chavarro says, given that the government’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults consume three or more servings of low-fat dairy products daily.

J.E. Chavarro, et al. “A Prospective Study of Dairy Foods Intake and Anovulatory Infertility.” Human Reproduction, 22 (5): 1340-1347.

3. Men who eat large quantities of soy-based foods produce 32 percent less sperm per milliliter than men who consume no soy-based foods.

The Harvard-based study that yielded this stat examined the effects of 15 different soy-based foods on men whose partners were trying to become pregnant. “The very reason menopausal women find soy-based foods helpful—because they exert mild estrogenic effects—is the same reason they can be harmful to male fertility,” Lauersen says. “While including a few soy-based foods in your diet won’t affect most men, if a man’s sperm count is low, or even low-to-normal, soy foods could tip the estrogen/testosterone balance in the wrong direction and reduce sperm count further.”

J. E. Chavarro, et al. “Soy Food and Isoflavone Intake in Relation to Semen Quality Parameters Among Men from an Infertility Clinic.” Human Reproduction, 23 (11): 2584-2590.

4. Women who consume at least one daily serving of whole milk are more than 50 percent less likely to experience ovulatory infertility than are women who consume less than one serving of whole milk per week.

The same Harvard-based study that linked low-fat dairy products to one kind of infertility linked full-fat dairy products with the opposite effect: “Successively higher intakes of ice cream” show promising results, its authors write. Fat and cholesterol are building blocks for hormones, so eating full-fat dairy products while attempting to become pregnant “is sound advice,” says Alice Domar, an assistant professor of obstetrics at Harvard and author of Infertility Explained: The Complete, Authoritative Guide to Everything You Need to Know on Your Journey to Parenthood. “Is there anybody who doesn’t want to be told to eat more Häagen-Dazs?” But she warns against the sensationalism that such studies spark.

J.E. Chavarro, et al. “A Prospective Study of Dairy Foods Intake and Anovulatory Infertility.” Human Reproduction, 22 (5): 1340-1347.

5. Men who are exposed to large quantities of bisphenol-A (BPA), a chemical used in the manufacture of canned foods, have sperm counts about 23 percent lower than men with no BPA exposure.

Still crave Spaghetti-Os? When used in the linings of cans, BPA leaches into food. The University of Michigan-affiliated study that yielded this scary stat also found a 10 percent increase in sperm DNA damage among men exposed to large quantities of BPA. Widely used in many products since the 1960s, BPA is now the subject of investigations by the Food and Drug Administration as the agency seeks to calculate risks, reduce human exposure, and support the shift to alternatives.

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