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Can Dad's Diet Make a Healthier Baby?

Is Dad Eating for Two?
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The biochemistry of semen "is so complex," says Ronald Burmeister, MD, an infertility specialist at the Reproductive Health and Fertility Center in Rockford, Ill. "... I think folic acid is just one aspect of it."

Deficiencies in the nutrient zinc, for instance, also have been linked to decreased sperm production, according to a review article appearing in the March 2000 issue of Fertility and Sterility. Low levels of zinc, found naturally in meat, liver, eggs, and seafood, may interfere with the absorption and metabolism of folic acid.

Add alcohol to the mix and the picture becomes even more complicated. "Alcoholics tend to have lower zinc levels, which can then interfere with folate levels," says Rebecca Sokol, MD, professor of medicine and ob/gyn in the division of reproductive endocrinology and infertility at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine. Sokol will give a speech about nutrition and alternative therapies in male infertility at an upcoming meeting of the Society of Reproductive Medicine in Florida and expressed particular interested in the Wallock study.

Despite its weaknesses, the folic acid study does shine an important spotlight on male reproductive health, the researchers say. Goldstein says that roughly a third of all infertility problems are associated with females, a third with males, and a third with a combination of the two. It therefore makes sense to understand the male part of the infertility equation more thoroughly.

Furthermore, understanding nutritional factors in reproductive health would be particularly helpful since changing dietary habits is "easier than surgery," says Goldstein.

However, research into male reproductive health to date has been "absolutely neglected," says Philip Werthman, MD, urologist and director of the Center for Male Reproductive Medicine in Los Angeles. "Fertility [research] is driven by gynecologists ... and you rarely see gynecologists who want to treat the male partner."

"I certainly think [our study] justifies further research, not only in folic acid and sperm but other nutrients as well," Wallock tells WebMD. When it comes to looking at the potential impact of diet on male reproductive health, she says, "we've just scratched the surface."

Sarah Yang is a freelance writer in El Cerrito, Calif., who has written for The Los Angeles Times and The San Francisco Examiner. She is a frequent contributor to WebMD.

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