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Falling Sperm Counts Linked to Saturated Fats

10 Jan 2013

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By Steve Dada
A report in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has revealed that saturated fats like those found in rich cheeses and meats, may do more than weigh men down after a meal. The study also links them to dwindling sperm counts.

The report found that young men who ate the most saturated fats had a 38 percent lower concentration of sperm, and 41 percent lower sperm counts in their semen, than those who ate the least fat.

The study’s lead author Tina Jensen said “we cannot say that it has a causal effect, but I think other studies have shown that saturated fat intake has shown a connection to other problems and now also for sperm count.

The research is not the first to connect diet and other lifestyle factors to sperm production and quality. In 2011, Brazilian researchers found that eating more grains - such as wheat, oats or barley was associated with improved sperm concentration and mobility, and fruit was also linked to a speed and agility boost in sperm.

But that study and most others looked at these associations using data on men seeking fertility treatments, which may not be representative of all men. For their study, Jensen and her colleagues surveyed and examined 701 young men who were about 20 years old and getting checkups for the military between 2008 and 2010.

They were asked about the food they ate over the prior three months, and then asked for a semen sample. The researchers then broke the results into four groups, depending on how much of the men’s energy intake came from saturated fats, and compared how much sperm the men in each group produced.

The men who got less than 11.2 percent of their energy from saturated fats had an average sperm concentration of 50 million per milliliter of semen and a total sperm count of about 163 million.

That compared to 45 million sperm per milliliter of semen and a 128 million count in men who got more than 15 percent of their energy from saturated fats.

The World Health Organization defines anything over 15 million sperm per milliliter of semen as normal. In the study, 13 percent of men in the lowest-fat group and 18 percent of men in the highest-fat group fell below that level.

Although the study cannot determine whether other lifestyle factors might account for the link, Jensen said her team’s findings may partially explain studies that have found sperm counts decreasing around the world.

“I think obesity is another cause, but (saturated fats) could also be a possible explanation,” Jensen said.
She said that the next step is to find the mechanism by which saturated fat could influence sperm count, and then to see whether sperm counts improve when men cut down on saturated fat in their diets.

Agency Introduces New Rules for Food Safety
The Food and Drug Administration says its new guidelines would make the food Americans eat safer and help prevent the kinds of food-borne disease outbreaks that sicken or kill thousands of consumers each year.

The rules, the most sweeping food safety guidelines in decades, would require farmers to take new precautions against contamination, to include making sure workers’ hands are washed, irrigation water is clean, and that animals stay out of fields. Food manufacturers will have to submit food safety plans to the government to show they are keeping their operations clean.

The long-overdue regulations could cost businesses close to half a billion dollars a year to implement, but are expected to reduce the estimated 3,000 deaths a year from food-borne illness. The new guidelines were announced Friday.

Just since last summer, outbreaks of listeria in cheese and salmonella in peanut butter, mangoes and cantaloupe have been linked to more than 400 illnesses and as many as seven deaths, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The actual number of those sickened is likely much higher.

Many responsible food companies and farmers are already following the steps that the FDA would now require them to take. But officials say the requirements could have saved lives and prevented illnesses in several of the large-scale outbreaks that have hit the country in recent years.

In a 2011 outbreak of listeria in cantaloupe that claimed 33 lives, for example, FDA inspectors found pools of dirty water on the floor and old, dirty processing equipment at Jensen Farms in Colorado where the cantaloupes were grown.

In a peanut butter outbreak this year linked to 42 salmonella illnesses, inspectors found samples of salmonella throughout Sunland Inc.’s peanut processing plant in New Mexico and multiple obvious safety problems, such as birds flying over uncovered trailers of peanuts and employees not washing their hands.

Under the new rules, companies would have to lay out plans for preventing those sorts of problems, monitor their own progress and explain to the FDA how they would correct them. “The rules go very directly to preventing the types of outbreaks we have seen,” said Michael Taylor, FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods.

The FDA estimates the new rules could prevent almost two million illnesses annually, but it could be several years before the rules are actually preventing outbreaks. Taylor said it could take the agency another year to craft the rules after a four-month comment period, and farms would have at least two years to comply,  meaning the farm rules are at least three years away from taking effect. Smaller farms would have even longer to comply.

The produce rule would mark the first time the FDA has had real authority to regulate food on farms. In an effort to stave off protests from farmers, the farm rules are tailored to apply only to certain fruits and vegetables that pose the greatest risk, like berries, melons, leafy greens and other foods that are usually eaten raw. A farm that produces green beans that will be canned and cooked, for example, would not be regulated.

Such flexibility, along with the growing realization that outbreaks are bad for business, has brought the produce industry and much of the rest of the food industry on board as Congress and FDA has worked to make food safer.

In a statement Friday, Pamela Bailey, president of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents the country’s biggest food companies, said the food safety law “can serve as a role model for what can be achieved when the private and public sectors work together to achieve a common goal.”

The new rules could cost large farms $30,000 a year, according to the FDA. The agency did not break down the costs for individual processing plants, but said the rules could cost manufacturers up to $475 million annually.

Tags: Wellbeing, Featured, Sperm Counts

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