The importance of folic acid for male fertility

Folic acid for men

by Joanna Dunbar |

For as long as we can remember, women trying to have a baby have been popping a folic acid pill or pre-pregnancy multivitamin every day, safe in the knowledge that they are preparing their body to grow a baby. But how important is folic acid for men when trying for a baby?

Women who are trying to conceive and who are in the first trimester of pregnancy are advised to take a 400mcg of folic acid every day. And while a healthy and balanced diet should provide men with all the folic acid they need, studies have suggested that an extra boost of folic acid for men can help produce higher quality sperm.

What is folic acid?

Folic acid is taken to safeguard against neural tube defects, such as spina bifida, and is generally thought to be a key ingredient in making healthy babies. But what many of us didn’t know is that folic acid can be effective for prospective dads, too.

Do men need folic acid to increase fertility?

Otherwise known as vitamin B9, folic acid is essential for the healthy production of new cells – something which is vital for creating a baby. Folic acid is the man-made form of vitamin B9 and is known as folate when found naturally in foods. Our bodies cannot store folic acid or folate, which is why guidelines suggest we consume it every day.

While a healthy diet should give men all the folic acid they need, the science behind men taking on additional folic acid suggests that high levels of the nutrient in a man’s diet can lead to higher quality sperm, which, in turn, leads to fewer birth defects. A study by the University of California at Berkeley found that ‘men who had lower levels of folic acid in their diet had a higher rate of abnormal chromosomes in their sperm.’

It’s always possible to switch around your diet to increase consumption of foods rich in folic acid and it’s thought most men are already consuming the recommended 200mcg of folic acid through a balanced diet. Mums-to-be have been used to reading the labels on food packaging to seek out the products promising to deliver their RDA of folic acid. And now dads-in-waiting can follow suit.

Which foods are high in folic acid?

It’s not news that leafy greens such as spinach, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and kale are good for you but they are also rich in folic acid as long as they aren’t cooked for too long. Microwaving or steaming is best to retain as much leafy goodness as possible. Chickpeas, lentils and beans also do the job of providing folic acid as do most fruits. A trip down the cereal aisle at the supermarket is a wise move to seek out fortified cereals and breads too.

Do folic acid supplements increase sperm count?

Some studies have found that folic acid can enhance a man’s chances of becoming a dad: A daily dose has been found to improve the quality of sperm, and in some cases, increase the sperm count, too. So much so, that drug companies have produced and marketed folic acid supplements for men and some health professionals suggest prenatal vitamins taken by both partners when trying to conceive is just common sense.

What are the side effects of taking folic acid?

Most people who take folic acid have no side effects, according to the NHS. Some minor side effect could include feeling sick, a loss of appetite and bloating or wind.

What are the benefits of taking folic acid for men?

There are many benefits of taking folic acid, especially for men. Maintaining a healthy level of folic acid protects your heart and cardiovascular system, may reduce the instance of depression and mood disorders and can boost your sperm count. It is also often used to treat conditions like Coeliac disease and anemia.

What are the symptoms of folate deficiency for men?

Folate deficiency is the lack of vitamin B12 or 89 in the body, causing the body to produce abnormally large bloodcells that cannot function properly, according the the NHS website. Signs that you may be suffering from folate deficiency include tiredness, a lack of energy, mouth ulcers, a sore and red tongue, muscle weakness and problems with memory. If you think you might be suffering from folate deficiency it's a good idea to book an appointment with your GP.

Best folic acid supplements for men

Recent research by Queen Mary University of London and the University of London has found that there is no reason to up their intake of folic acid. So for both mums and dads to be, eating a diet rich in the right foods or reaching for a supplement is a great way to prepare for pregnancy.

If you think your partner’s diet is lacking in folic acid there are several men's supplements available: Wellman, Centrum and Seven Seas all offer pre-conception or combined vitamin supplements but it would be advisable to check with your GP before starting to take anything new.

Read next

Male fertility tests: options and when to seek help

Erectile dysfunction treatment and cause

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