Can Dad's Diet Make a Healthier Baby?
Is Dad Eating for Two?
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
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.