A NEW Danish study linking saturated fats to lower sperm counts should force many South African men to think twice about their high intake of hotdogs, cheeseburgers, coffee and sweetened cold drinks.
The study by a team of researchers from Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen found that young men who ate more saturated fats had a 38% lower concentration of sperm (45 million sperm per millilitre) and 41% lower sperm counts (128 million) in their semen than those who ate the least amount of fat.
In the findings, researcher Tina Jensen said the team surveyed and examined 701 young Danish men, who were aged about 20 and getting check-ups for military service between 2008 and 2010.
Reacting to the research, Prof Salome Kruger, of North West University's nutrition department, yesterday said South African men faced a similar risk.
"The study was done on healthy young men in Denmark from the general population. The quality of the study was good, with standard international methods.
"We can thus conclude that the results are reliable and may well be applicable to healthy young men of any country following a Westerntype diet – meat, grains, fruit, vegetables, dairy products, fats and sugars – like most South Africans," she said.
Saturated fats are found in meat, chicken skin, full fat dairy products, butter and fast foods.
Kruger said earlier studies found that smoking and excessive alcohol and caffeine intakes were associated with low sperm counts and that the results from the new study should be added as a marker for male infertility.
"Couples who have problems with fertility should always seek medical assistance.
"Men in relationships where women fail to fall pregnant could start by quitting smoking, decreasing alcohol intake as well as the intake of drinks containing caffeine, decreasing saturated fat intake and trying to get to normal body weight if obese.
"The chances to increase sperm counts in men experiencing infertility problems will improve. More important, their general health will improve," she said.
Kruger said a high intake of saturated fats and all sweetened cold drinks were associated with obesity in men and women.
"The intake of saturated fats can be decreased by cutting visible fat from meat, not eating pies and baked confectionery, and eating smaller meat and cheese portions."