There may be a link between folate consumption in men and reduced chromosomal abnormalities in sperm, a new study suggests.
Folate and folic acid are forms of a water-soluble B vitamin. Folate occurs naturally in food, and folic acid is the synthetic form of this vitamin. Folic acid is well-tolerated in amounts found in fortified foods and supplements. Sources include cereals, baked goods, leafy vegetables (spinach, broccoli, lettuce), okra, asparagus, fruits (bananas, melons, lemons), legumes, yeast, mushrooms, organ meat (beef liver, kidney), orange juice and tomato juice. Folic acid is frequently used in combination with other B vitamins in vitamin B-complex formulations.
Health experts have stressed the importance of folate consumption in women hoping to conceive, as folate greatly reduces the risk of neural tube defects such as spina bifida. This new study may indicate that it is also important for men hoping to be fathers to have folate-rich diets. However, the study authors admitted that one of the difficulties of the study was distinguishing the effects of folate from other micronutrients.
Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, CA, investigated the association of normal dietary and supplement intake of folate, zinc and antioxidants (vitamin C, vitamin E and beta-carotene) with the frequency of aneuploidy (having an abnormal number of chromosomes) in human sperm.
Aneuploidy has been associated with failure to conceive, miscarriages, and infants born with conditions such as Down's syndrome.
The researchers analyzed sperm samples from 89 healthy, non-smoking men from a non-clinical setting for aneuploidy. Daily total intake (diet and supplements) for zinc, folate, vitamin C, vitamin E and beta-carotene was derived from a food frequency questionnaire. Potential confounders were obtained from a self-administered questionnaire.
After adjusting for covariates, the study found that men with high folate intake had lower frequencies of sperm with aneuploidy compared with men with lower intake.
Specifically, men who had the highest folate intake (between 772 and 1,150 micrograms/day) were seen to have 20-30 percent less sperm aneuploidy than those with the lowest folate intake.
The study authors concluded that men with high folate intake had lower overall frequencies of several types of aneuploid sperm. They recommended that further randomized controlled trials be conducted to verify the results.