There are all kinds of reasons one may want to be a vegetarian — not least of which is the fact that eating meat has a hugely detrimental impact on the environment. With the wide variety of vegetarian options available, it’s also easier than ever to adopt the diet, even for athletes and triathletes. However, it seems that the everything in moderation mantra for eating prevails, given new research showing that vegetarian diets can have unfortunate effects on men.
Between 2009 and 2013, 443 meat-eaters and 31 vegetarians and vegans were monitored by researchers at Loma Linda University. It found that the non-meat eaters had significantly lower sperm counts than their omnivorous counterparts and that the sperm the plant-based dieters did have was of lower quality (weaker in terms of movement). The results showed that omnivore men had an average sperm count of 70 million/mL, while those with plant-based diets averaged 50 million/mL.
Dr Eliza Orzylowska, an obstetrician at Loma Linda University Medical Centre, told The Telegraph that “although these people are not infertile, it is likely to play a factor in conception, particularly for couples who are trying to conceive naturally, the old-fashioned way.”
Among the possible explanations for the sperm count discrepancy are soy (highly prevalent in most vegetarian diets and long associated with reduced sperm count), a shortage of vitamin B12 (mainly found in meat and fish, which works to maintain sperm count) and the abundance of pesticides found in produce. It should be noted, however, that more research needs to be done given the relatively small sample of vegetarians/vegans compared to omnivores. This is a very preliminary study and it has not been peer reviewed. Further, it should be noted that studies have associated consumption of the saturated fats found in meat and the consumption of dairy to lower sperm count, while Time recently ran a story on vegetarians living longer.
Again, until there is more conclusive evidence, few things seem safer than eating everything in moderation and listening to your own body.