Can Dad's Diet Make a Healthier Baby?
Is Dad Eating for Two?
"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 finding.
Based on Wallock's findings, men trying to conceive might benefit from the same daily dose of folic acid recommended for women. "Five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables a day should be adequate to meet folic acid requirements," says Wallock. Folic acid also may be obtained through supplements, but Wallock recommends improving the overall diet for the other important health benefits it imparts.
Goldstein says there's no harm in advising men to take a multivitamin, but he says there is no firm evidence that increasing folic acid in the diet will lead to higher sperm counts or higher fertility rates. He also says Wallock's study is limited by its small size and design. "The study is deficient in that it did not look at a general population," he tells WebMD. He notes that the men in the study reported eating no more than 3.5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day. "These are patients who are already likely to have folate deficiencies and inadequate folate nutrition."
Wallock agrees that it will be necessary to repeat the study with a larger group of subjects. Still, she says the study "probably reflects a large segment of the population. Many men out there don't eat many fruits and vegetables every day. ... We certainly don't have an extremely well-nourished population out there."
Other physicians emphasize the importance of looking at various nutrients and environmental factors, noting the complexity of male infertility.