SOYBEAN CAUTION: Loma Linda University researchers say products made from soybeans likely lead to lower sperm count and suggest that men avoid soy for 74 days before attempting to have children.

Adventist News

Andrew McChesney

News Editor – Adventist Review

Vegetarian Diet Linked to Lower Sperm Count

The Adventist-led study says vegetarian men remain fertile but might need to wait a little longer to conceive.

Editor's note: Read October 30 follow-up story about how this study went viral.

Men who avoid meat may live longer, but they also may have more trouble fathering children than non-vegetarians, according to a new Adventist-led study.

The study by the Loma Linda University Medical School indicates that vegetarian and vegan men have a significantly lower sperm count than those who eat meat, and the motility of their sperm is about half that of non-vegetarians.

The findings do not mean that vegetarian men are infertile but that they might have to wait a little longer to conceive, researchers said.

“The results showed that the vegetarian diet reduced sperm concentration and motility but did not extend into the infertile range,” says the study, which was published Wednesday in the Fertility and Sterility journal.

The four-year study found that vegetarian men have sperm counts of 50 million sperm per ml compared to 70 million sperm per ml for non-vegetarians. In addition, about 30 percent of sperm in vegetarian men were actively mobile compared to nearly 60 percent in meat eaters.

The five-member research team suspects that the blame rests with the use of soy-based meat substitutes and a deficiency of vitamin B12, which is found in meat.

The researchers embarked on the study because they wondered if there was a link between sperm quality and the findings of an earlier Loma Linda study that Seventh-day Adventists live a decade longer than the average U.S. life expectancy of 79 years.

But the new study of 26 vegetarians, five vegans, and 443 non-vegetarians found that the sperm quality of vegetarian men was lower.

“For children who have grown up with those kind of diets, it may have impacted on sperm quality from puberty,” said Eliza Orzylowska, the lead author of the study and an obstetrician at Loma Linda University Medical School in California, according to Britain’s Telegraph newspaper.

Orzylowska said vegetarian men did not need to eat meat if they wanted to have children.

“But I would caution against using soy, at least for 74 days beforehand, which is the time it takes for sperm to be replaced,” she said.

Vegetarian men are advised to improve sperm quality by taking vitamin B12 pills. “Clinical management would include dietary supplements to offset deficiencies,” the study says.

It also says that more research was needed to confirm its findings.

Several Adventist vegetarian men greeted the news of the lower sperm count with disbelief and humor.

“That doesn't appear to have been a problem in India,” Bill Cork, an Adventist pastor in Houston, Texas, said wryly on Twitter.

David Hamstra, an Adventist pastor in Fort McMurray, Alberta, has no plans to give up his lifelong vegetarian diet.

“My four kids indicate it isn't too much of a problem,” he said.

Contact news editor Andrew McChesney at Twitter:@ARMcChesney

Related links

Fertility and Sterility journal: “Decreased Sperm Concentration and Motility in a Subpopulation of Vegetarian Males at a Designated Blue Zone Geographic Region”

The Telegraph, Oct. 20, 2014: “Vegetarians Have Much Lower Sperm Counts”

Adventist Review, June 26, 2014: “Vegetarian Diet Is Effective Tool Against Climate Change, Study Finds”

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