Folic acid 'helps to keep sperm healthy'

Last updated at 10:48 20 March 2008

A folate-rich diet may protect men against producing abnormal sperm and children with genetic abnormalities, a study suggests.

The vitamin is traditionally recommended for pregnant women but scientists now believe the father's diet could also play a role in the development of healthy children.

The study published in the journal Human Reproduction found that men who consumed a higher than recommended daily amount of folate and folic acid had lower frequency of abnormal sperm.

Researchers in California analysed sperm samples from 89 men and questioned them about their daily intake from both diet and vitamin supplements.

The results showed that men who consumed between 722 and 1,150 micrograms had a 20-30 per cent reduction in abnormal sperm.

In the UK, the daily recommended amount for adults is 200 micrograms per day and 400 micrograms for women trying to conceive and until the third month of pregnancy.

Folic acid is known to help protect against the development of spina bifida.

Folate is a water soluble B vitamin that occurs naturally in food such as pulses, beans and spinach while folic acid is its synthetic form.

Lead researchers Professor Brenda Eskenazi, Director of the Centre for Children's Environmental Health at the University of California, said: "In previous studies, we and others have shown that paternal micronutrient intake may contribute to successful conceptions by improving the quality of the sperm.

"This study is the first to suggest that paternal diet may play a role after conception in the development of healthy offspring."

Ms Suzanne Young, a researcher in Professor Eskenazi's group, and the study co-ordinator, said: "Increasing folate intake can be as simple as taking a vitamin supplement with at least 400 micrograms of folate or eating breakfast cereal fortified with 100 per cent of the recommended daily intake for folic acid.

"In addition, green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, can have up to 100 micrograms of folate per serving."

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