For couples struggling to conceive, using supplements may be the answer for success. Folic acid is a supplement that has been recommended and shown to enhance fertility. Folate (or folic acid, the man-made synthetic form found in supplements) is a B-vitamin necessary for development of red blood cells and DNA production. This essential nutrient also has the role of being involved in cell division. Women are routinely told to supplement with folic acid about three months prior to becoming pregnant to prevent neural tube defects, a birth defect of the brain, spine, or spinal cord, with spina bifida being the most common form of it.
But what about men? Should they also take folic acid to help with conception?
Folic acid’s role in male fertility
When we review the differences between the male and female ability to conceive, it’s important to remember that women are born with all the eggs they will ever have. However, men can become a father well into old age since their body makes sperm every day. In fact, 1,500 new sperm cells are made every second. In order for the sperm to go from germlin stem cell to a sperm cell ready for fertilizing an ovum, folate is part of the process of helping with cell division and DNA synthesis.
What we know is that folate levels in men’s sperm have been associated with sperm count and health. Studies have shown that low folate levels in semen were associated with poor sperm DNA stability. This is why semen analysis is an important fertility test for infertile couples. The test should be done before any treatments are prescribed. Sometimes referred to as a sperm counting test, a real semen analysis includes much more than just a sperm count.
Will folic acid supplementation increase sperm count?
As far as we know, maybe. While one-third of infertility involves a problem with just the woman, one-third of infertility cases are a problem with just the man and another third involve problems on either sides or unexplained infertility. This is why every infertile couple must make sure the male partner is also tested. Even If a fertility problem has been identified in the female partner, that doesn’t mean a male partner’s fertility is normal.
A 2002 study found that a combined supplementation of folic acid and zinc taken for 26 weeks increased total sperm count in fertile and subfertile men, with an increased normal total sperm count of 74 percent. Another finding from this study was that before a man started the supplement, seminal folate and zinc levels were not significantly different in the fertile and subfertile men. This may indicate that even though low folate wasn’t the cause for lower sperm counts, supplementation still helped.
Should men be taking a folic acid supplement?
Before any man begins taking a folic acid supplement on his own to increase his fertility, he should always talk to his doctor first. Like with any nutrient, taking too much of anything can backfire. Unless a doctor prescribes it, a daily supplement of folic acid should not include more than 1,000 mcg of this vitamin. It is possible that large doses of folic acid may cover up a vitamin B12 deficiency, which can cause irreversible damage if not caught early. Folic acid supplementation can also interact with other medications. For example, it can reduce the effectiveness of anti-seizure medication and some fertility blends of folic acid include herbs that may interact with fertility drugs.
The recommended intake of folate/folic acid for men is 400 mcg a day. The best way to obtain folate is by eating rich food sources of it. Good food sources of folate include beef liver, spinach, black-eyed peas, white rice, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, Romaine lettuce, avocados, and broccoli.