Men who consume more folate are significantly less likely to produce sperm with the chromosomal abnormalities that can lead to birth defects, according to a study conducted by researchers from the University of California at Berkeley and published in the journal Human Reproduction.
A high intake of folate by women is already known to help prevent neural tube birth defects, but this is the first study to show that a father’s intake of the nutrient might be similarly important.
Researchers analyzed sperm from 89 healthy, non-smoking men for a condition called aneuploidy, in which a sperm cell carries the wrong number of chromosomes. While in most cases, aneuploidy leads to either a failure to conceive or to miscarriage, sometimes the fetus can be carried term. Such children suffer from birth defects such as Down’s, Klinefelter’s or Turner’s syndrome.
The researchers also questioned the men about their diets and calculated their intake of folate, beta-carotene, zinc, vitamin C and vitamin E.
The sperm samples from men who consumed the highest amount of folate – between 722 and 1150 micrograms per day – contained between 20 and 30 percent fewer aneuploidal cells than those from men who ate the least folate.
Researcher Brenda Eskenazi said that the findings suggest that the recommended daily folate intake for men – 400 micrograms – might be too low for those expecting to conceive.
Reproductive expert Allan Pacey from the University of Sheffield said that while evidence continues to emerge that certain nutrients lead to healthier sperm, the best way to get this benefit is from a healthy diet.
“Before couples run out to the chemist and stock up on supplements, I would suggest that they just lead sensible lives and stop smoking, moderate alcohol intake and eat sensibly, making sure they get their five portions of fresh fruit and [vegetables] each day,” he said. “And because it takes three months to produce sperm, any lifestyle changes should take place well in advance of any attempt to conceive.”
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