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Can Dad's Diet Make a Healthier Baby?

Is Dad Eating for Two?

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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.

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.

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