Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Does red meat affect male fertility?


“Want to be a dad? Cut out sausages and eat chicken,” the Daily Mail reports, prompted by the findings of a recent study into diet and fertility outcomes for couples undergoing fertility treatment.

This study analysed the diets of 141 men attending a fertility clinic with their partners for help getting pregnant. Sperm from men who reported a diet high in processed meat had less success fertilising eggs in the laboratory. But sperm from men who ate more chicken were more successful.

Crucially, however, none of these variations in diet affected the chance of the couples becoming pregnant after treatment, or having a baby. This means the study cannot prove that processed meat causes lower male fertility or that chicken boosts it. These associations could be valid, but there might also be other factors involved. And men who choose to avoid eating processed meat may also be healthy in other ways.

That said, eating a healthy, balanced diet low in processed meat certainly can’t hurt in terms of boosting male fertility. Other methods include quitting smoking if you smoke, moderating your consumption of alcohol, and avoiding things that warm up your testicles, such as wearing tight underwear or having hot showers or baths, all of which can affect sperm production

Where did the story come from?

The study was carried out by researchers from Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital in the US, and Huazhong University of Science and Technology in China. It was funded by the US National Institutes for Health and the China Scholarship Council.

The study was published in the peer-reviewed medical journal Fertility and Sterility.

The Daily Mail’s reporting of the study was of a high standard, signalling an appropriate note of caution: “Because the scientists looked only at statistics and did no health or lifestyle tests, they cannot draw any firm conclusions as to cause and effect. But they suspect the levels of fat and chemicals in processed meat may be significant.”

The Mail provided the sound advice that, “Experts advised couples undergoing fertility treatment to eat a healthy diet.” The article also included useful commentary from an independent expert, Allan Pacey, professor of Andrology at the University of Sheffield, who said: “I would be concerned that eating poultry is just a surrogate marker for some other aspect of a man’s life which has not been measured here.” 

What kind of research was this?

This prospective cohort study looked at the effect of the male partner eating meat on a couple’s success during fertility treatment.

Infertility is a common problem. Around one in seven couples may have difficulty conceiving, which is around 3.5 million people in the UK. It is usually advised you seek advice for potential infertility problems if you and your partner are unable to conceive after one year of trying.

Fertility treatments are also called assisted reproductive technology (ART). There are various options that may be considered, depending on the likely cause of the couple’s fertility problems.

These include medications to help the woman release eggs, in vitro fertilisation (IVF), where the sperm and eggs are cultured in the laboratory and the embryo is then implanted, and intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), where a single sperm is injected directly into the egg.

Following a healthy lifestyle and maintaining a healthy weight through physical activity and a balanced diet, not smoking or using other substances, and moderating alcohol intake may also help boost the chances of conceiving.

The researchers say the possible impact of the man’s diet on fertility has had a lot of attention recently, particularly the role of meat intake, which may influence sperm development. This was the focus of their new study.

This type of study can’t prove cause and effect, as the couple were already having fertility problems at the time the male diet was assessed and many other factors could be involved. A randomised control trial, randomly allocating diets differing in meat intake, would be required for this.

However, there would likely be several ethical issues of randomising a man attending a fertility clinic to high or low meat intakes to see if this had an effect. For example, there could be a possible time delay for any effects and the known adverse health effects of a high-meat diet, such as an increased risk of bowel cancer. 

What did the research involve?

The research gathered dietary information from 141 men whose partners were having fertility treatment to help them conceive between 2007 and 2014. All of the couples in this study were receiving IVF or ICSI. The amount and type of meat intake by the male partner was estimated from dietary questionnaires.

They wanted to see if the amount and type of meat affected fertility success, which was defined in a number of ways:

  • fertilisation rate – the proportion of female eggs successfully fertilised by male sperm in the laboratory
  • implantation rate – the percentage of embryos successfully implanted into the women’s womb
  • pregnancy rate – the percentage of fertility cycles (attempts) leading to a pregnancy
  • live birth rate – the percentage of fertility cycles leading to a live birth

The analysis took account of factors (confounders) known to affect fertility in addition to meat intake, including:

  • total energy intake
  • age
  • body mass index
  • alcohol
  • caffeine
  • prudent dietary pattern – a diet high in fruit, vegetables, wholegrain foods, poultry and fish
  • western dietary pattern – a diet high in red and processed meat, sugary desserts, high-fat foods and refined grains

Taking account of these factors helps isolate the individual effect of eating meat against everything else. 

What were the basic results?

Processed meat was linked to lower fertilisation rates, whereas eating more chicken was linked to higher fertilisation rates.

Men’s total meat intake, including their intake of specific types of meat, was not associated with implantation, pregnancy or live birth rates.

There was a 13% higher fertilisation rate in men in the highest quarter of poultry intake compared with those in the lowest quarter (78% versus 65%).

Processed meat intake was inversely related to fertilisation rate in couples having conventional IVF – that is, as processed meat intake went up, the fertilisation rate went down.

The fertilisation rates for men in increasing quarters of processed meat intake were 82% (lowest quarter of processed meat intake), 67%, 70% and 54% (highest processed meat intake) in conventional IVF cycles.

Processed meat intake was not associated with fertilisation rate in couples receiving ICSI.  

How did the researchers interpret the results?

The authors concluded that, “Our study expands the growing literature regarding the relationship between diet and markers of male fertility.

“However, owing to the scarcity of data on how men’s diets in general and meat intake in particular influence infertility treatment outcomes, further research is needed to clarify these relations to allow the formulation of clinically relevant recommendations in the future.” 


This study of a cohort of men attending a fertility clinic for help to conceive found fertilisation rates in the laboratory during IVF were less successful if men reported a diet high in processed meat, and more successful if they ate more chicken.

Importantly, the effect of overall meat intake was not related to fertility success, which is the chance of becoming pregnant after the treatment cycles, or having a live birth.

It was also not clear whether the variation in fertility rate influenced how many cycles of IVF were needed, or how long the couple needed medical assistance, before they became pregnant or had a child. If more IVF cycles were needed, this would be more expensive, especially if people are paying for private fertility treatment.

So what does this mixed bag of results tell us? It does not tell us processed meat causes lower fertility or chicken boosts it. That could be true, but there could be lots of reasons why the individual couples at the fertility clinic had difficulty conceiving – not all related to male fertility.

Also, the amount of processed meat men eat could be a marker of how generally healthy their diet is, or how healthy they are in general, both of which may influence sperm development and fertility. The researchers did attempt to account for this in their analysis, but this might not completely eliminate the effects. Other relevant factors, such as smoking, have not been taken into account.

The researchers say they previously found a link between meat intake and changes in sperm shape in sub-fertile men attending a fertility clinic. This gives a potential biological mechanism explaining how meat might be linked to fertility, but again it might not necessarily be because of meat – it could be the wider diet, or something else entirely.

The results are relevant to couples receiving fertility treatment. However, they are not directly relevant for people conceiving without medical assistance. In fact, a useful exercise would be to compare the diets of men from couples needing fertility assistance with those who got pregnant naturally.

Though the theory of meat intake influencing sperm development is plausible, for all we know these men may be eating much less meat than those who have had no trouble conceiving naturally.  

The study is consistent with current advice to follow a healthy, balanced diet. Though this study does not prove a high intake of processed meat reduces male fertility, it has been linked to other adverse health risks – notably bowel cancer.

Read more about healthy eating.


Readers' comments (4)

  • Iam 37years and I reside in Europe, I had Lived with Fibroids for many years and it got to be so painful that my doctor suggested I undego Hysterectomy.. I was Afraid of surgery & didn’t wish to follow through it. My husband encouraged me to look into alternatives to surgery so I started searching for One. My Fibroids had been come very painful I was unsure of what to do. I came across Eka Herbal Medication to shrink out Fibroid and other Infertility problems and I decided to give it a chance, My Fibroids was 6-7cm in size and After ordered for eka Herbal Medication,( & They actually send it to me through my Posting address and I mix the Agbara Herbal powder with Orange Lime Juice and drink for just 2weeks, They started shrinking the Fibroids, Now they are 90% gone, Iam so very grateful to priest Eka and His Agbara Herbal Medication for given me my life back..I never thought this Herbal medication will make me feel like normal woman again, Words are not enough to describes How grateful iam..peace and blessings to you priest eka & Your Kingdom..Take a second decision to use eka Herbal Medication..

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Hello everyone my names is Maria from Pensacola Florida USA i want to testify of a powerful man called Dr Larry and how he helped me get pregnant, I and my husband have been married for 8 years now without a child to call our own i have done everything i can but still couldn't get pregnant this was eating me up inside i was always ashamed whenever i and my husband go out because i see him playing with other children because he love kids so much one day when we got home i was crying bitterly i just couldn't bear it anymore i went online to look for fertility treatment when i saw someone testify of his great work and how he have help many in problems with his herbal medication i decided to give him a try i contacted him through his email he assure me that it will take 84 hrs, he will send the herbal medication to me and i will be pregnant, 5 weeks after i felt ill so i went to see the doctor he confirmed that i was pregnant all thanks to this powerful spell caster Dr Larry you are indeed a great man now i believe that there is no problem without a solution he can also help you contact : Whatsapp contact; +2348163807836.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment


    Hello my name Lena i want to testify of a mighty and great spell caster called Priest Ade,I had difficulties getting pregnant due to chronic medical illness this got me so worried and sad my husband wasn't happy with it and one night he came back home angry he told me he wanted to be a father and since i couldn't make him that he has decided to marry someone else and divorce me i was devastated and cried all night was afraid i would end up in the hospital kept thinking about the good times we had together and how much i was going to miss him, i was looking for something online when a message pooped up concerning this great spell caster and how he have helped so many in similar problems i thought about it for some time and decided to give him a try when i contacted him he told me that after 24 hrs my husband will be back and i will be pregnant i did everything he asked me to do, to my greatest surprise the next day it was my husband back home he knell down begging for forgiveness and he canceled the divorce,4 week after the doctor confirmed that I'm pregnant I'm so happy, he can help you as well contact him at. or

    WhatsApp +2347059715465

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • I would like to share my personal experience in this field. Some time ago I was ready to give everything for the opportunity to become a mother. Biologically I am now my baby mother. I have no eggs and due to cancer and I lost my uterus. I had no variants. Since I am from Hungary surrogacy is illegal here. We started looking for variants abroad, here a cost varies greatly. After reviewing a large number of clinics, we contacted native iyabasira native clinic They offered an ‘all inclusive’ package that we were very happy with, as we were only focused on winning. And it is much cheaper than somewhere else and we were surprised with conditions and attitude to us. After 1.5 years we became parents. And it is pricelessly. this is mother iya herbs works, email info ( In such cases her herbs is a real solution to become a happy mum.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.