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One of the most treasured measures of male function, namely, sperm motility, was recently the subject of a study testing its association with sugar-sweetened beverage intake. It was the first study of its kind and being headed up by the prestigious Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, there was no lack of credibility as far as the researchers went.

A total of 189 healthy young men aged between 18-22 from the University of Rochester served as the sample pool. In addition to providing semen and blood samples, each subject completed a 131-item validated food frequency questionnaire to analyse the association of sugar-sweetened beverage with sperm parameters and reproductive hormone levels while adjusting for potential confounders.

When it came to reporting beverage consumption, frequency options ranged from never to six or more times per day. A beverage serving was defined as one glass, bottle or can; size was assumed to be 12 ounces (i.e. 350ml) for means of estimating nutrient intake. Total sugar-sweetened beverage consumption was derived by adding the intakes of carbonated sugar-sweetened beverages with caffeine (i.e. Coke & Pepsi), carbonated sugar-sweetened beverages without caffeine (such as Ginger Ale and 7-UP) and noncarbonated sugar-sweetened beverages such as sports drinks and sugared iced tea.

The study found that men in the highest quartile of sugar-sweetened beverage intake (defined as >1.3 serving per day) had 9.8% lower progressive sperm motility than men in the lowest quartile of intake. What’s more this relation between SSB intake and low semen quality extended beyond the contribution of caffeinated beverages.

With the increasing focus on the adverse effects of sugar intake on health, this study might serve as an effective deterrent especially for the average male looking to preserve his valuable sperm motility and its associated fertility. It’s also likely to add to pressure on relevant Australian food and beverage authorities responsible for the existing guidelines on sugar intake. With the recent release of new guidelines on the sugar intake for adults and children by the World Health Organisation recommending that free sugar intake be reduced to less than 5% of total energy intake, it seems relaxed guidelines on sugar intake in Australia have a limited shelf life.

 

Chiu YH, et al. Sugar-sweetened beverage intake in relation to semen quality and reproductive hormone levels in young men. Human Reproduction. 2014;29(7):1575–1584.

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