Male Fertility’s Two-Front War, Plus Sneaky HFCS

Today’s edition of Monday Musings is a quick account of two recent studies that highlight actual, literal threats to the fruitfulness and productivity of the human male loin. For years, the average male sperm count has been decreasing, especially in Western industrialized nations, by about 1% to 2% per year. Globally, of course, populations have been increasing, so sperm is successful by playing the numbers game, but we’re worried about the individual. We’re concerned with per capita sperm count. And it’s been dropping.

But why?

For candidate number one, let’s look to the bones. Bones, as you know, are active, living organs rather than passive inert structures. They grow (in response to a complex soup of hormonal messaging), they densify (in response to weight-bearing activity), they even atrophy (in response to a lack of weight-bearing activity and/or gravity). The primary regulators of bone growth and function are the sexual organs, which manufacture testosterone and estrogen, the hormones with a big effect on bone structure, but new mouse research is showing that it’s a two-way street: osteocalcin, a hormone produced by bone osteoblasts, induces the testicles to produce testosterone. Male mice dads with low osteocalcin levels produced smaller, less frequent litters than male mice with normal levels of osteocalcin, who had larger litters and more of them. The tiny mice testicles actually carried a heretofore undiscovered osteocalcin receptor; we human males carry the same receptor in our testicles, so it’s likely that osteocalcin plays a similar role in human male fertility. You’d better take your osteocalcin supplements, fellas!

Of course, by “osteocalcin supplements,” I mean resistance training and protein, both of which help raise osteocalcin levels in human males. People probably get enough protein (just make sure it’s mostly animal-based), but they generally don’t lift enough heavy stuff to stimulate osteocalcin and increase bone density, and this may be reflected in the lowered sperm counts (and osteoporosis rates).

Candidate(s) number two are agricultural pesticides and their effects on the endocrine system. Drawing upon a pool of 134 chemicals, a trio of scientists from University of London’s Toxicology Center ran a thorough analysis of the anti-androgenic (blocks or mimics testosterone and other male androgen hormones) potential of 37 popular pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides in use across Europe. Of the 37, 30 were found to interact with the androgen receptors. Of the 30, 14 were previously known, but 9 were newly identified as anti-androgens, while 7 were identified as androgens (bodybuilders, don’t get any ideas).

Take a look at the group’s supplementary PDF for some troubling data. The most widely-used pesticide tested negative for androgen antagonism, but the next four most prevalent pesticides all tested positive, including two – cyprodinil and pirimiphos-methyl – which were previously unknown to affect the androgen receptors. Critics rightly point out that the tests were in vitro and, thus, inconclusive. The authors agree. In fact, due to “estimated anti-androgenic potency, current use, estimated exposure, and lack of previous data,” the authors “strongly recommend that dimethomorph [used on potato crops, squash, melons, tomatoes], fludioxonil [used on strawberries, tomatoes, and wine and table grapes], fenhexamid [grapes and strawberries], imazalil [citrus], ortho-phenylphenol [mainly used on post-harvest citrus, but it’s also found in general surface disinfectants] and pirimiphos-methyl [stored grains] be tested for anti-androgenic effects in vivo” using lab animals.

That seems like a reasonable request. A free market requires the full availability of relevant information to all parties involved. Given the preliminary in vitro results of these early tests, I think whether or not a relatively novel pesticide in wide use across the industrialized world interferes with human sperm count, motility, and other androgenic hormones is highly relevant information.

One more quick bit: all that high fructose corn syrup you aren’t guzzling might have even more fructose than previously assumed. See, we all like to throw around that 55/45 fructose/glucose number as proof that HFCS isn’t that much worse than plain old white sugar, but a study from late last year examining various HFCS-sweetened commercial products arrived at a different number. The mean fructose content for all HFCS tested was 59%, with several popular products from major brands coming in at 65% fructose! I wasn’t able to find any brand or product names, but it’s safe to assume – and the authors agree – that people consuming popular products sweetened by HFCS are consuming more fructose than indicated by packages, producers, or previous assumptions. This doesn’t directly affect us, since, you know, we avoid the stuff altogether, but what about family, friends, or coworkers who eat it everyday? There’s no way to know. At least with sucrose, your liver can expect a certain proportion of fructose.

TAGS:  men's health

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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46 thoughts on “Male Fertility’s Two-Front War, Plus Sneaky HFCS”

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    1. And canned coconut milk. I used to buy the Thai Kitchen brand. Then I found out it had BPA and that Native Forest does not. Same price at the health food store as well as online at Amazon for a 12 pack.

      Might as well go with the BPA free brand.. and its organic too!

      1. I found that the best coconut milk (and coconut flour) is the one you make yourself 🙂
        The best grater is the Parmesan grater – it takes some time, but the result is worth it.

      2. Also, if you get it on amazon as a subscribe and save, you get 15% off and free shipping! We get a shipment every 3 months (native forest original).

      3. The article states: “this study wasn’t designed to look at consumers, who in contrast to the Chinese workers in this study are exposed to low levels of BPA.”

        From :
        Until recently, the results from rat metabolism studies were assumed to be directly applicable to humans. However, a recent study performed by Völkel and coworkers[7] with human volunteers indicates that humans metabolize orally administered BPA much more completely and more rapidly than rats. The results showed that BPA glucuronide is very rapidly formed and excreted in urine, and that this process is essentially complete within 24 hours. Practically none of the BPA is retained in the bodies of humans.

  1. Aren’t a large percentage of our carbs coming from frutose as we are eating primarily fruits and vegetables.

    1. You’re eating primarily fruits and vegetables? Whenever I eat fruit I generally don’t feel good afterwards. Also, modern fruits and vegetables surely have more fructose than their wild or ancient counterparts.

    2. Check out wiki ‘fructose’ it has a useful table to give you an idea of the main fructose foods and how much is in each.

      I have very little fruit now and it definitely affects me, seems to be more so the longer I’ve been Primal – I stick to berries and the odd apple. My carbs come from what’s in nuts, vegetables (not potatoes or yams or sweet pots) and beef.

      PaNu did an interesting piece on fructose just recently. It is toxic at higher levels and has to be converted in the liver as a priority and then of course involves the whole insulin system for transport of the subsequent products so certainly something to keep low from all I’m reading and interestingly I’m beginning to think it’s the fructose element in sugar that creates the addiction rather than the glucose. The link is in the fact it’s processed in the liver and can lead to a similar condition as seen in alcoholism which of course is another addictive problem. But that’s just a theory by me!

    3. Don’t worry about it, Jim.

      IIRC, Mark suggests people have plenty of those on their plates. But plenty on your plate doesn’t necessarily add up to to a lot in terms of percentage of the diet. There’s a lot of water – and fibre – in veg. And there are more calories per gram in fat than carbohydrate. Besides, most vegetables aren’t going to be particularly high in fructose. You probably don’t want to go crazy on the fruit, and fruit *juice* might be best avoided, but basically real food is OK. Just don’t eat the processed food that has high fructose corn syrup added to it.

      1. Fructose does not come from calories.

        There is no such actual thing as a calorie–it is a convenient fiction everybody agrees upon to help them assess the amount of energy available in an object. You could not walk down the street and point out an actual calorie to me.

        I really wish people would get over the whole calorie thing. They don’t understand what calories in and calories out actually mean, they don’t understand that the laws of thermodynamics work differently in a live organism than in a dead bomb calorimeter, and they completely ignore the effects of hormones on weight gain and loss irrespective of the number of calories ingested.

        It’s getting on my last nerve, to tell you the truth.

        1. yes – i agree Dana – there is also that dicey subject whenever studies count calories in, weight gain etc – of exactly how efficient is our digestive system? – it’s a curious thing to search out cause the estimates are really all over the board (100% = unrealistic to as poor as 25%)

          so if you eat 1000 calories and, well, poop out 300 whereas the next person eliminates 500 due to poor digestion or 100 ’cause of efficient digestion – kinda throws a wrench in the whole silly calorie-counting thing anyway – certainly as it relates to “studies”–

        2. Sorry kid, the laws of thermodynamics work the same for everything in the universe.

          The real issue with the calories in vs calories out thing is that it does not describe the thermodynamic system properly — mostly it’s missing a couple of feedbacks and that the storage mechanism is not an independent variable.

          … and I can easily demonstrate a kilocalorie (what most people call a ‘calorie’) walking down the street. It’s a unit of energy — and you’d have to be pretty whacked out to claim energy isn’t real.

          Science. It works, bitches.

  2. “Critics rightly point out that the tests were in vitro and, thus, inconclusive.”

    This statement irks me. The protocol for the National Toxicology Program (where they’re screening a whole big bunch of compounds) is exclusively in vitro – mammalian cell lines. If it is hogwash, why would they be wasting piles of bucks on in vitro testing? Either you accept in vitro results as a possibility (and the massive screens as well). Or you don’t, and you invest even more money into experiments in live animals (and you can use Daphnia, the water flea, or Drosophila, the fruit fly, instead of warm fuzzy things for much cheaper and without the paperwork of animal care committees or institutional review boards).

    1. I love the way in vitro tests are inconclusive, but observational studies using questionnaires should be taken as gospel.

      What do I think of modern science? It’s a great idea in theory. I’d love to see some in actual practice. 😀

    1. I’ve heard osteocalcin plays a role in human metabolism generally. Not too surprised we’re seeing a reduction in fertility at the same time we are seeing more acquired metabolic disorders.

      I’m suspecting from the evidence I’ve seen that hard cheeses are a popular cheat food among vegans. I wonder if that’s a coincidence. Our conversion rates for fat-soluble vitamin precursors are slipshod at best.

  3. Could it just be that resistance training makes our men that much more attractive so we ladies have a harder time keeping our hands off of them?? Lol

    Great post, as always! My husband and I are trying for our second so now I have a game plan for him:Do some squats, eat a steak, hit the sack. No guy in his right mind can argue with that! 🙂

  4. I am a gardener, and this is a recent post I shared with friends. I hope it’s okay to share a link; if not, please delete.

    I think this is really important information. Our food supply is at stake. Potentially our nutrition, disease to crops and us, the ability to reproduce, and even desertification of farmland. If you don’t have time for the article, please think twice before you spray herbicides to control weeds.

    Institute for Responsible Technology –
    The following article reveals the devastating and unprecedented impact that Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide is having on the health of our soil, plants, animals, and human population. On top of this perfect storm, the USDA now wants to approve Roundup Ready alfalfa, which will exacerbate this calamity.

  5. I know I don’t need to convince anyone here that HFCS is a bad, bad thing…but I’m just adding to the mix. My son when a child had horrid earaches. Screaming, feverish end-up-at-the-clinic each time earaches. Perforated eardrum once. We did the endless rounds of antibiotics to no avail. Finally I took him to a naturopath and she had a look at his diet. Took him off all HFCS products and tuna which was his big love. (Tuna because of histamine production) He’s never had another earache. I rattled this off once to a conventional nurse-practitioner and she scoffed. Her explanation was he was at a stage of growth where the eustachian tubes lengthen and thus promote less infections…

  6. While the toxins listed are of course having an impact, simply avoiding them will not increase testosterone if you are not getting some form of saturated fat. Going organic (such as that appellation has become) is nice, but getting the building blocks in there is necessary as well.

  7. Glad to see this being addressed! I work with a lot of clients on increasing fertility, and often the men test much lower than they expect in sperm count. I’ve found similar results: optimizing saturated fats and proteins, removing toxins and removing grains/sugars can greatly increase sperm count in only a few months. There is also a specialized supplementation plan that helps in the short term… great article.

  8. Ex Nihilo poster again. But only for a sec…

    2-3 things:

    1) HFCS, based on the research I have done shows that it has the SAME digestive pathway as another familiar toxin – called ALCOHOL! HFCS is some chemist having WAY TOO much fun w/ hydrocarbon chains!!!! HFCS is a frickin’ toxin, and it IS in about ALL the PROCESSED FOODS we [email protected]!

    We need to eliminate this toxin from our body!

    I believe it is the sole reason for the obesity we see in our chidlren and the Type II diabetes onset we have seen there as well.

    Playing PS2 CAN NOT be the sole cause of this!

    It is the diet.

    I have already done in situ diet modifications on my students in tackle footballl to verify this – they made weight and were toned when I got them OFF that diet!

    But we risk is our younger generation that will SUFFER from fatty-liver disease in their `20’s!!

    They will have the same liver health as a frickin’ alcoholic. That is the pathway w/ HFCS’s!

    Is that what you want for your children?

    I doubt it! Avoid this poison!

    As to weight lifting – when you do that it promotes testorone in your body, which promotes higher bone density.

    That is why when you are in your `50’s you MUST lift weights.

    I think that was simply put. g’nite.

  9. Great Article… The number of physical and mental ailments our modern lifestyle is producing is absolutely staggering. We are living in opposition to the natural flow of life on Earth and are suffering because of it.

  10. Mark and Others,

    How do you think this research effects, if at all, the way that PBF works. Are bodyweight exercises enough to stimulate the necessary increase in bone density that triggers the release of osteocalcin? Or would we need to look to weight-lifting and weight bearing activities?

    1. Walking is the best weight bearing activity and is free and easy to achieve for just about everybody. Body weight exercise when performed properly provide a good deal of resistance. How many press ups or unassisted pull ups can you do? I do agree though that adding weights is useful, especially if you are trying to build from not very much muscle mass – maintaining what you have after a lifetime of athletic endeavour is probably easier off just body weight than trying to build it from scratch! I know the extra weights I’m doing (deadlifts, kettlebell, free weights) is definitely aiding my strength improvements. Squats are excellent too and adding weight there is easy, just hold things while you do them!

      I do think keeping fruit consumption sensible is a good idea on the fructose front but with PB if you have cut all the added sugars, processed foods, convectionary and HFCs etc the ‘relatively’ small amounts of fructose you get from eating a piece of fruit a day is well within what I would consider what we were evolved to deal with. And as Mark pointed out on his omega 6 and nut post a while back fruit does come with some good micros as well as a little less good fructose load.

  11. 2 words: cell phones

    Men typically carry cell phones in pockets, cells phone emit a kind of radiation, especially the new smart phones, cell phones are in close proximity to the gonads.

    “The body tissue in the lower body area has good conductivity and absorbs radiation more quickly than the head. One study shows that men who wear cell phones near their groin could have their sperm count dropped by as much as 30 percent”

    Could cell phones be the cigarettes of today?

    1. The microwave radiation used in cell phone signals is at too low a frequency (longer wavelength, lower energy) to break molecular bonds. This is why I don’t buy into the “cell phones cause cancer” BS. But…sperm count? Hmmmmm…..maybe? Microwaves do affect the vibration and translation of molecules…that’s why it heats up water! I don’t buy into any ‘one study’ until there is a definite mechanism identified.

      Food for thought though. I just switched my cell phone to my jacket pocket!

      1. Are you going to let it affect your heart now instead of your gonads?
        It is amazing the amount of people, including my daughter, who sleep with their cell phones, iphones and blackberries right by their head, on their bedside table, that is creating interference all night long. It must have a harmful effect.

        1. Blackberry’s I mean, see I was hungry and thinking about food!!!!! LOL

        2. Better start wearing that tinfoil hat!

          Non-ionizing radiation isn’t harmful when we’re talking about milliwatts. In larger doses, it causes burns.

          Funny how the “magical rays” or “radiation” talk brings out the ignorant nutters.

          Science, it works bitches.

  12. I found this study in Russia to be particularly alarming. They fed rats GMO soy and by the 3rd generation of rats they were sterile, had a high mortality rate, and birth defects. I think we really need to put GMO’s in the list of possible culprits in this problem.

  13. As a wife to a guy who had to get sperm analysis… and his was having issues… I can at least report that weight loss (achieved with LESS sugar, and eating at home instead of fast food…BLECH, I know), and NO booze, made a significant change for the better. There were no workouts added. N=1

  14. I find the concern over pesticides being anti-androgenic to be a bit overblown. Estrogens exist everywhere, not just in synthetic pesticides.


    Some veggies that have estrogen include celery, beets, peppers, carrots, eggplant, potatoes and yams.


    Sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, flax seeds and anise seeds also contain estrogen.

    Dairy Products (for those who use cheese, etc)

    So, going primal/paleo isn’t going to eliminate potentially “estrogenic” compounds from your diet.

  15. It is a MYTH that non-ionizing radiation cannot cause biological effects. The establishment and industry powers are desperately clinging to a definition of thermal-only effects of electromagnetic exposure.

    Note that cellphones and Wi-Fi transmit radiofrequency signals which are pulsed and modulated. In the case of Wi-Fi, the signal is 2.4 billion times per second 24/7 if you have it on at home or work.

    The following webpage summarizes and links to research studies describing adverse biological effects ranging from DNA strand breakage, Heat Stress Proteins (HSP), permeability to the blood-brain-barrier in mammals, cognitive impairment to name a few:

    Latest study published in JAMA (supposed to be prestigious):

    I suspect increased glucose intake of brain cells is tied to cell repair functions due to damaged DNA.

    We are currently living in a man-made electromagnetic smog of radiofrequency pollution which is less than 100 years old.

    The cosmic background radiation our DNA evolved in is an order million of millions times lower than what we are exposed to by way of cellphone towers and Wi-Fi. It does not bode well for the human race.

  16. With regards to the dangers of radiofrequency causing adverse health effects, we are seeing a reaction which can be likened to the Semmelweis Reflex.

    New medical information which is contrary to existing paradigms is dimissed by the establishment or industry whose revenue model depends on the status quo.

  17. Wow, apparently it is the uncarboxylated form of osteocalcin that acts as an endocrine form. That really throws a wrench in previous interpretations! Thanks for drawing my attention to this!


  18. The 4-hour body is a good book. The book says that K2 is helpful in Testosterone production. I have just not read the science section yet.