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Decoding the impact of junk food consumption on fertility
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Decoding the impact of junk food consumption on fertility

Consuming fast foods regularly can risk one's reproductive functions, including erectile dysfunction in men and infertility in women.
Moderation and preparing alternative delicacies at home is the key to avoiding most junk foods.
While junk foods may pass regulatory standards, their excessive consumption can pose a threat to reproductive health.

Indulging in the savory delights of crispy pakoras or golden french fries is a guilty pleasure for many, but could this penchant for junk food affect fertility in men and women? Experts say oily street-foods and fast foods may appease the taste buds, but it is high in calorie, low-nutrient composition paving the way for a myriad of health issues ranging from obesity, diabetes to even cardiovascular diseases. “ Apart from junk food, other unhealthy life habits such as sedentary behavior, smoking and excessive alcohol consumption can also lead to or exacerbate fertility issues,” says Dr Sanjay Prakash J, a Urologist and Microsurgical Andrologist at the Asian Institute of Nephrology and Urology in Chennai.

What are junk foods?

“Junk food is empty calories,” says Richa Anand, chief dietician and Head of the department, Dr LH Hiranandani Hospital, Mumbai. She says, the more processed a food is, the more denatured it will be and it will be stripped of the essential vitamins and minerals. She adds that unsaturated fatty acids seen in excessive amounts in fried food, fast foods, frozen meals, cakes, cake mixes, and pastries can be hazardous to the ovaries and the reproduction cycles in women.

Junk food affects male fertility: Here’s how

  • Leads to Erectile Dysfunction

Dr Prakash elucidates the intricate connection between junk food consumption and male fertility, highlighting the adverse impact on testicular health. He explains, “The gradual accumulation of excess fat can lead to the retraction of the scrotum towards the abdomen, resulting in elevated testicular temperatures.” This phenomenon interferes with sperm production and can even cause atrophy of the testes, contributing to infertility.

Additionally, he says excess body weight can lead to reduced blood flow to the penis, culminating in erectile dysfunction—a sobering reality for many men grappling with obesity-related health concerns.

Junk food impacts fertility in men. “Fast foods contain less protein and are high in carbohydrates. Consumption of refined sugar can cause insulin resistance causing erectile dysfunction and infertility,” shares Dr Karthikeyan VS, microsurgical andrologist and urologist, Apollo Hospitals, Chennai.

  • Sperm health gets affected by junk foods

Delving into the biochemical repercussions of junk food consumption on male fertility, Dr Karthikeyan says oxidative stress, induced by the consumption of junk food, triggers the production of free radicals, damaging the sperm DNA, membranes, and mitochondrial lining.

“All of these compromises the sperm health such as count, movement and morphology,” says Dr Prakash. He also said that these factors lead to decreased pregnancy rate. It is important to note that children born to men with metabolic syndrome are more prone to the condition as well.

Impact of junk food on ovarian health or women’s fertility

While junk foods may pass regulatory standards, their excessive consumption can pose a threat to reproductive health in women, too, says Dr Nirmala Chandrashekar, senior consultant obstetrics and gynecology, gleneagles BGS Hospital, Kengeri, Bangalore. Dr Chandrasekar emphasizes the role of junk food in fueling obesity, a well-established risk factor for conditions like polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), which can disrupt hormonal balance and hinder ovulation—a crucial aspect of the reproductive process.

Dr Chandrashekar describes, “Excess weight affects hormonal functioning by causing an imbalance in the hypothalamus-pituitary-ovarian axis (axis responsible for releasing estrogen and progesterone in women.) She also said that obesity, with or without PCOS, can be corrected. “There have been several instances when women who resort to healthy eating along with exercise, have lost a few kilograms and ovulated naturally,” she added.

Obesity can be a cause for irregular menstrual cycles, dysmenorrhea, or any other gynecological issue, adds Anand. She also emphasizes the role of trans fats and refined carbohydrates in fueling inflammation and obesity, both of which are linked to an increased risk of ovarian cancer and other reproductive disorders.

Anand stresses the importance of adopting a balanced, whole-foods diet and avoiding excessive consumption of junk food, particularly during pregnancy, to safeguard both maternal and fetal health.

In a 2023 study published in Obesity Medicine, a cross-sectional study of 200 girls revealed interesting facts about the harmful impact of the intake of several types of junk food. While junk food consumption was one of the prime causes for an increase in obesity in women, studies indicated junk food affects fertility in women. Junk food and obesity were the key reasons for menstrual difficulties including PCOS, early puberty, early menopause, infertility, cardiovascular complications, hypertension, and diabetes mellitus in women.

A 2020 study published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention described that industrially produced trans fats impact obesity and estrogen hormones, which may be associated with a greater risk of ovarian cancer.

 

Food alternatives for better health

Anand suggests that moderation and preparing alternative delicacies at home is the key to avoiding most junk foods. This can reduce the harmful effects on health too. She advises:

  • Replace loaves of bread with homemade roti or chapati.
  • Avoid street food (samosa, vada pav, puri or even wraps) as it is made with reusable oils.
  • Replace cookies made from refined flour with multigrain or ragi.
  • Follow a Mediterranean diet, which is low in sugar and high in proteins. It also includes low calorie nuts, fruits and olive oil. It is also rich in fiber and is termed as the anti-inflammatory diet.

 Takeaways

  • Regular consumption of oily street foods and junk foods can not only increase the risk of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular condition but can impact fertility in men and women alike.
  • In women, excessive junk food consumption can also trigger polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), disrupt hormonal balance, and hinder ovulation and pregnancy.
  • Men who consume fast foods regularly can develop insulin resistance, erectile dysfunction, and infertility.
  • While avoiding junk completely may be a challenge, moderation and preparing these delicacies at home can be a good practice.

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