Sperm is a reproductive cell found in semen, a fluid males produce and release during sexual relations. Sperm cells play a vital role in pregnancy.
Some men experience infertility because of a low sperm count. Different factors affect a man’s sperm count, including health and lifestyle choices.
But you shouldn’t believe everything you hear about infertility. There’s a claim that drinking the lemon-lime soda Mountain Dew can kill your sperm. If you're a big Mountain Dew drinker and you haven't been able to conceive, you may think there’s some truth to this rumor.
Before you blame Mountain Dew on the inability to conceive, or think you can use the beverage as a method of contraception, here's a look at the facts.
Does Mountain Dew lower your sperm count?
If you’re having unprotected sex and unable to conceive, you might point the finger at Mountain Dew, especially if this is your beverage of choice. But the rumor surrounding the drink’s effect on sperm is a myth.
It’s true that some researchers have found a connection between consuming high doses of caffeine and a change in sperm quality. A male who drinks one 12-ounce cup of coffee every day may experience higher sperm motility, which is sperm’s ability to move. Motility, however, slows down when a male consumes too much caffeine, typically after four cups of coffee a day.
A 12-ounce can of Mountain Dew contains 54 milligrams (mg) of caffeine, which is more than other sodas (Coke has 34 mg per 12 ounces and Pepsi has 38 mg). So it’s understandable why you may think the caffeine in the drink has the ability to lower or kill sperm.
But given how a cup of coffee has about 217 mg of caffeine per 12 ounces, and you would have to drink four cups to cause a decrease in sperm motility, it becomes easier to understand how little Mountain Dew affects sperm. You would have to drink about 11 12-ounce cans of Mountain Dew to have a similar effect.
You're probably not drinking this much of the beverage. And even if you did, the effects would only slow sperm motility, not kill your sperm.
Does drinking Mountain Dew affect fertility?
Another theory is that the dye in Mountain Dew affects fertility. Mountain Dew contains a dye called Yellow No. 5, or tartrazine. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has ruled that the dye is safe. But over the years, rumors have surfaced about the dye reducing the size of the penis and testicles. This claim is also false.
Yellow No. 5 isn’t only found in Mountain Dew, but also in other types of foods, including potato chips and candy. It can be found in some medications and cosmetic products as well. So if this food coloring actually reduced or killed sperm, the effects would be widely known. It would affect more than the people who consume Mountain Dew.
There are some concerns with Yellow No. 5. For example, some people are more sensitive to this dye and experience side effects, including eczema, asthma, and hyperactivity. But as far as affecting a male’s reproductive health, this dye will have zero impact on your sperm count.
For overall health, consider reducing your intake of high-sugar carbonated beverages. Replace one soda a day with water, then add more water over time as a healthier beverage.
What’s a low sperm count?
When sperm comes in contact with a female egg, the egg becomes fertilized and starts the prenatal development of a baby. Sperm is microscopic and can’t be seen with the naked eye. But for men with a healthy sperm count, it isn't too difficult to conceive a baby, as long as sexual intercourse occurs during a woman's fertile time.
A low sperm count means your body produces fewer sperm cells than what’s normal. You have a low sperm count if you have fewer than 15 million sperm cells per milliliter of semen.
This doesn’t mean you can’t conceive a child, but you’ll have to work harder and conception may take longer.
Low sperm count vs. no sperm count
There’s a difference between a low sperm count and no sperm count. The latter can be caused by a blockage in the tube that carries semen from your testes to the penis, or because of a sperm production problem with your testicles.
You can't see sperm, so you might be unaware of a sperm count issue. You may not even question your sperm count until you have difficulty conceiving a child.
Some men do experience symptoms, which can include:
- a lower sex drive
- swelling or a lump near the testicles
- decrease in facial or body hair
To diagnose a sperm count problem, your doctor can perform blood and semen analysis tests to determine the amount and quality of sperm in your semen.
What factors affect sperm count?
Mountain Dew won’t affect your sperm count, but other factors might make it difficult to have a child. Infertility is caused by a variety of health issues. This includes infections that reduce sperm production, such as gonorrhea, HIV, and inflammation of the testicles.
Medications taken for high blood pressure may also cause ejaculation problems, or your body may produce sperm antibodies that kill your sperm. Other health problems that affect sperm include:
- hormone imbalances
- cancers of the male reproductive organs
- celiac disease, a digestive disorder that causes inflammation of the small intestines
Certain environmental factors also affect sperm production. You may have a lower sperm count if you work in an industry where you’re exposed to pesticides, heavy metals, or organic solvents.
In addition, exposure to high doses of radiation can affect sperm production. Avoid overheating of the testicles that can be caused by tight clothing, sitting with a laptop on your legs, or sitting for long periods.
Be aware that even lifestyle habits including the following can affect sperm count:
- smoking tobacco
- being overweight
- consuming too much alcohol
- drug use
If you suspect infertility or a lower sperm count, discuss the issue with your doctor. If you’re not trying to get pregnant, be sure to use a condom or other pregnancy prevention method.
Drinking Mountain Dew doesn’t kill your sperm. But that doesn’t mean you should go overboard and consume too much of the beverage. Like other sodas, Mountain Dew contains a lot of sugar (46 grams per 12 ounces). Too much sugar can increase your risk of obesity and diabetes. The beverage also has more caffeine than other sodas. Heavy caffeine use can cause:
- upset stomach
- a faster heartbeat
Bottom line? You don’t have to give up your favorite lemon-lime beverage, but you should drink it in moderation.