A group of researchers from Sweden have found that diets can produce rapid changes in sperm quality. The finding offers promise for new diagnostic methods for assessing sperm quality.
A variety of lifestyle and environmental factors can increase the likelihood of a reduction in sperm quality. Scientists know that obesity and disorders that are associated with it, most notably type 2 diabetes, can lead to this phenomenon.
In this new study published in PLOS Biology, researchers at Linköping University placed some young men on a high-sugar diet. They observed that this diet produced a rapid effect on their sperm quality.
“We see that diet influences the motility of the sperm, and we can link the changes to specific molecules in them,” said study lead Anita Ost, a senior lecturer at Linköping University’s Department of Clinical and Experimental Medicine. “Our study has revealed rapid effects that are noticeable after one to two weeks.”
The findings increase knowledge of sperm function and may lead to improved methods for evaluating sperm quality.
The principal aim of researchers in this study was to probe epigenetic phenomena. This is about changes in the levels of gene expression or physical properties when the DNA sequence remains unchanged.
These epigenetic changes result in the transfer of properties from parents to offspring through the sperm or the egg in some cases.
The research team wanted to find out whether the consumption of high amounts of sugar in diet could impact the sperm’s RNA fragments.
As shown in previous research, small RNA fragments referred to as tsRNA are involved in the appearance of epigenetic phenomena in offspring. They are present in high numbers in human sperm. The RNA fragments can also be found in the sperm of many other species, including fruit flies and mice.
Researchers found in one study that the consumption of high amounts of sugar by male fruit flies a little while prior to mating led to them often producing overweight offspring.
For now, scientists do not fully know the function of the RNA fragments. They, however, think that the fragments possibly play a role in epigenetic phenomena.