Folate Important to Produce Healthy Sperm
Men who plan to become dads would do well to make sure they are getting plenty of folate, or folic acid, suggests new research. Women have long been told that even before getting pregnant they should begin taking a multi-vitamin containing folic acid, which protects the developing fetus from neural tube defects such as spina bifida. A new study from the University of California, Berkeley, suggests folate is important for dads, too, supporting production of healthy sperm.
The study involved 89 healthy, non-smoking men. Researchers took complete information about the men’s total intake, including both food and supplements, of zinc, folate, vitamins C and E and beta-carotene. They then evaluated their sperm samples. It turned out that the men whose intake of folate was in the highest percentile — between 772 mcg and 1,150 mcg per day — had considerably healthier sperm.
WHY IS FOLATE IMPORTANT?
While many don’t realize it, sperm can be responsible for miscarriage as well as certain birth abnormalities. In healthy men, a small percentage — between 1% and 4% — of sperm carries changes in chromosomes referred to as aneuploidy (having the wrong number of chromosomes). This is important because it is implicated in miscarriage as well as with genetic abnormalities such as Down Syndrome, Turner Syndrome and others. In this study, those men who had the highest folate had 20% less sperm aneuploidy than those who ingested the lowest amount of folate. To be sure it wasn’t the other micronutrients that made the difference, researchers used several different statistical analyses to separate them out.
I got in touch with Brenda Eskenazi, PhD, professor of maternal and child health and epidemiology at Berkeley and a researcher in the study. Dr. Eskenazi says that while this information is intriguing, it’s not a mandate for daddy-hopefuls to load up on folate. However, it is a good idea for men to take a vitamin with the usual recommended dosage of 400 mcg per day, and regularly fill their plates with green leafy vegetables, broccoli, beets, beans and drink orange juice, all good sources of folate, she said. She noted that many bread and cereal manufacturers also fortify their foods with folic acid.
Folic acid is generally considered very safe, but there has been some concern from a study that linked excess folic acid consumption with faster tumor growth in people with cancer. Other studies, though, have reported an opposite finding — that folate may help reduce cancer risk. Clearly more research is needed, but, in the meantime, aim for the middle ground since it won’t hurt and might help.