Can Dad's Diet Make a Healthier Baby?
Is Dad Eating for Two?
April 2, 2001 -- Advice abounds for women who are trying to get
or are already pregnant. Alcohol and tobacco are taboo, for example, while
fitness and healthy diets are big plusses.
All that attention might leave fathers-to-be feeling left out.
But now, doctors say there may be something new that prospective dads can do to
improve the reproductive process: Get more folic acid in their diet.
In a study published in the February issue of the journal
Fertility and Sterility, researchers from the University of California
at Berkeley and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Western Human Nutrition
Research Center link low levels of folic acid with low sperm counts and
It has been well established that women who take folic acid
before and during pregnancy significantly reduce their risk of having a baby
with neural tube defects such as spina bifida. Women are advised to get 400
micrograms of folic acid per day, either from dietary sources such as leafy
greens, orange juice, legumes, and fortified cereals, or through vitamin
The study in men measured concentrations of folic acid, a type
of vitamin B, in the blood and semen of 48 subjects who were 20 to 50 years
Folic acid is metabolized into different forms in the body. It
was the low level of a certain type -- the non-methyl form -- that correlated
with low sperm quality, the researchers found.
"One of folic acid's major roles is to participate in DNA
synthesis," says lead author Lynn Wallock, PhD, a nutritionist and an
assistant research scientist at the Children's Hospital of Oakland Research
Institute. Wallock was working at the Western Human Nutrition Research Center
at the time of the study.
The authors say the non-methyl form of folic acid is important
in the production of thymine, one of the four nucleic acids used to make DNA.
They also refer to a 1997 study published in the Proceedings of the National
Academy of Sciences (a journal that publishes papers written by academy
members) that linked deficiencies in folic acid to subsequent chromosome
"This confirms previous studies in rats, showing that
folate deficiency, if it's severe, causes impairment in sperm counts," says
Marc Goldstein, MD, an expert in male infertility who is not associated with
the study. Goldstein, a professor of reproductive medicine and urology at Weill
Medical College of Cornell University, and co-executive director of the Cornell
Institute for Reproductive Medicine, says there is growing evidence that
"folate does seem to be important in sperm production."
While Wallock and her colleagues also noted that smokers -- who
made up approximately half the subject group -- had significantly lower levels
of the non-methyl form in their semen than non-smokers, they drew no specific
conclusions from this, calling instead for further research into this