The need to ensure optimal levels of folic acid during one’s reproductive years may not be limited to women according to a study published online on March 19, 2008 in the journal Human Reproduction. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have found that men who have reduced levels of the B vitamin folate had a higher rate of chromosomal abnormalities in their sperm which puts their children at greater risk for genetically determined disorders.
Suzanne S. Young of UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health and her associates administered dietary questionnaires to 97 healthy men aged 22 to 80 to determine their intake of folate, zinc, beta-carotene and other nutrients from food and supplements. Semen samples collected following the questionnaires’ completion were examined for aneuploidy (abnormal numbers of chromosomes) of the X and Y chromosomes and chromosome 21. Boys born with an extra X or Y chromosome can have learning difficulties, and the presence of an additional chromosome 21 causes Down syndrome.
Adjusted analysis of the data showed that men who consumed the highest amount of folate had a 19 percent lower rate of abnormal sperm than those with a moderate intake, and a 20 percent lower rate than those whose folate intake was low. There did not appear to be a link between sperm aneupoloidy and the other nutrients evaluated in the study. “We found a statistically significant association between high folate intake and lower sperm aneuploidy: there was increasing benefit with increasing intake, and men in the upper 25th percentile who had the highest intake of folate between 722-1150 micrograms, had 20-30% lower frequencies of several types of aneuploidy compared with men with a lower intake,” explained study coauthor Brenda Eskenazi, who is a professor of epidemiology and maternal and child health at UC Berkeley's School of Public Health.
If future research confirms the current findings, a possible intervention for men intending to become fathers would be to increase the recommended daily allowance of folate for a duration of at least three months before attempting to conceive. “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% of the RDA for folic acid,” Dr Young observed. “In addition, green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, can have up to 100 micrograms of folate per serving.”
“While the importance of maternal diet on reproduction, especially folate intake, is well known, the results of our study suggest the importance of studying paternal nutrition when considering male-mediated developmental consequences,” Dr Eskenazi concluded. “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.”
The April 9, 1998 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, published an editorial entitled "Eat Right and Take a Multi-Vitamin." This article was based on studies indicating that certain supplements could reduce homocysteine serum levels and therefore lower heart attack and stroke risk. This was the first time this prestigious medical journal recommended vitamin supplements (Oakley 1998).
An even stronger endorsement for the use of vitamin supplements was in the June 19, 2002, issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). According to the Harvard University doctors who wrote the JAMA guidelines, it now appears that people who get enough vitamins may be able to prevent such common illnesses as cancer, heart disease, and osteoporosis. The Harvard researchers concluded that suboptimal levels of folic acid and vitamins B6 and B12 are a risk factor for heart disease and colon and breast cancers; low levels of vitamin D contribute to osteoporosis; and inadequate levels of the antioxidant vitamins A, E, and C may increase the risk of cancer and heart disease (Fairfield et al. 2002).
Even though major medical journals long ago endorsed the use of folic acid to reduce cardiovascular disease (Malinow et al. 1998), the FDA still does not accept that folic acid has any benefit other than preventing a certain type of birth defect.
A study by Giovannucci et al. (1998) in the Annals of Internal Medicine showed how fatally flawed the position of the FDA is. Data from the famous Harvard Nurses' Health Study conducted at the Harvard Medical School showed that long-term supplementation with folic acid reduces the risk of colon cancer by an astounding 75% in women. The fact that there are 90,000 women participating in the Harvard Nurses' Health Study makes this finding especially significant. The authors of this study explained that folic acid obtained from supplements had a stronger protective effect against colon cancer than folic acid consumed in the diet. This new study helps to confirm the work of Dr. Bruce Ames, the famous molecular biologist who has authored numerous articles showing that folic acid is extremely effective in preventing the initial DNA mutations that can lead to cancer later in life. This Harvard report, showing a 75% reduction in colon cancer incidence, demonstrated that the degree of protection against cancer is correlated with how long a DNA-protecting substance (folic acid) is consumed.
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