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Sperm Series: Scary Soy

Lately, I have been receiving an unusual number of inquiries regarding sperm health through my Ask Jessica Q&A service.  I’m not sure what it is about the new year that makes men so urgently concerned about sperm health, but I’m happy to help answer their questions!  I have received so many questions that I thought I should start a series of blogs about sperm health to help those of you out there with the same questions who might be too shy to ask.

One of the most alarming things I have been finding in my sperm research (I’ve been up to my elbows in sperm research lately, thanks to you readers) is the way that sperm interacts with soy.  It keeps on coming up so I thought I would focus on soy for the first installment of this blog series.  Here are a few facts, supported by research, that will have you hiding from the scary soy monster!

  • Soy exposure beginning in infancy and continuing through adolescence causes males to have “significantly higher” levels of estrogen and “significantly lower” levels of testicular testosterone than in control groups.  While the study supporting this was done on rats to determine whether soy exposure changed the physical makeup of their reproductive systems (it didn’t), it is still alarming to me to think of how many little boys start out on soy infant formula, then transition to soy as filler in their school lunch meat – all in the name of good health.
  • Foods that help to improve sperm health include egg yolks and raw (or at least non-homogenized) milk, while soy was found to induce “sublethal” damage to sperm, meaning it doesn’t directly kill sperm, but it gets pretty darn close!  An interesting study was done on ram sperm (really, what could be more manly than sperm from a ram?) which found that freezing sperm with egg yolk or milk protein made it more functional when thawed, while freezing it with soy lecithin created “sublethal damages that seriously affect sperm functionality”.  One more reason to choose creme brulee over soy ice cream for a romantic baby making dessert!  As if you needed a reason…
  • Just a few months ago, a study was done in Japan which found that increased intake of soy and coffee (oh no!) was a “significant contributor to poorer semen quality”.  Other non-dietary factors identified as sperm killers (kind of like Ghostface Killah but different) in the study included exposure to plastics, ingestion of pesticides, and increased levels of cadmium from cigarette smoke.

It’s important to keep in mind the fact that the body can usually deal with soy if it is only eaten occasionally and in small amounts.  The effects of soy are not the same in everyone – some men suffer extreme hormonal changes when eating even small amounts of soy, while some vegan men who use soy as their primary source of protein have no problems with fertility and have several healthy children to prove it.  If you do decide to eat soy, please be sure it is not genetically modified (label would say something like “GMO-free”) and try to stick to fermented forms of soy such as tempeh, miso, or natto over highly processed forms such as tofu.

January 6, 2012   No Comments

Man Meat: Foods to Increase Testosterone

I realized today that I’ve been writing so much lately about pregnancy, babies, and women’s health that I better balance it out and write about something manly lest this become a girls only blog!  Here are a few foods that balance testosterone levels and help to keep a manly man the way nature intended – you guessed it – manly.

  • Butter: Yes, I am famous for going on and on about the health benefits of butter and allowing my toddler to eat slices of butter like they’re candy but there’s a reason for that.  Butter from healthy cows that have been fed grass instead of grain is rich in CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), the only trans fat found in nature and one of the most manly fatty acids out there.  In fact, if you take a break from reading this blog and do a search on CLA I bet you will come upon a host of bodybuilding websites, and what is more manly than a bunch of overly tan men, greased up with Crisco, dancing around on a stage and posing in tiny underpants?  But back to butter.  It contains CLA, which helps to balance levels of insulin, estrogen, and testosterone.  And this is why it’s a popular supplement for bodybuilders.  Butter also contains activated vitamin A, which is necessary for production of testosterone.
  • Grassfed beef: This is another great source of CLA and also a wonderful way to get plenty of protein and zinc – two precursors needed for testosterone production.  Please note that I am making a distinction here between grassfed meat and butter and regular commercial meat and butter.  Sadly, commercial cows are raised in feedlots, fed grain that lowers their levels of CLA (cows get CLA from the fermentation of grass in their gut done by bacteria that are killed off when feedlot cows are fed grain and antibiotics), and in some cases are even given doses of synthetic estrogen to make them grow faster and produce more milk.  These factors end up having the opposite effect on testosterone and they are the reason that foods containing saturated fat have such a bad reputation these days.
  • White button mushrooms: Aromatase is an enzyme that turns androgens (man hormones) into estrogens (lady hormones).  This is most important in the development of hormone dependent cancers, which is why foods that have anti-aromatase activity are heavily studied so that drug companies can figure out how to make drugs with the same activity.  White button mushrooms are one of the foods that you will find in these studies, though I suspect that most mushrooms have the same benefits (white buttons are just the cheapest, so probably they are the easiest to study in large amounts – that is purely my speculation though).  If you’re going to go off the deep end on eating mushrooms, make sure that you cook them first (in grassfed butter!).  Eating raw mushrooms in large amounts can expose you to a toxin inherent in mushrooms which is broken down when they are exposed to heat.
  • Cruciferous vegetables: This includes broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, bok choy, radish, turnip, and watercress.  Cruciferous vegetables contain sulfur-based compounds including one called I3C (indole-3-carbinol) that help to balance hormone levels and detoxify excess estrogen.  These compounds are widely studied for their anti-cancer effects, and when I worked in a clinic we used to give men a supplement containing these sulfur-based compounds to help them with urinary frequency problems.  Some of them came back reporting an increase in function in the “love area”, which I’m guessing would be due to a balancing of their testosterone levels!
  • Pumpkin seeds: Rich in zinc (another important nutrient for balancing hormone levels), pumpkin seeds also contain phytochemicals that are especially nourishing to the prostate.  The two studies I read found that pumpkin seed oil effectively reduced prostate size in cases of BPH (benign prostatic hyperplasia – also known as an enlarged prostate) that were caused by hormone imbalance.  And for all you coconut lovers out there – I found a study from Cuba that showed coconut oil to have the same benefits on BPH!

Ladies – I know the focus of this blog was more on men, but keep in mind that testosterone levels are important for women too!  In fact, testosterone is the single most important hormone related to sex drive for women.  So you may want to re-read this blog with that in mind :).

July 6, 2011   2 Comments