Women’s Health News Round-Up: November 15, 2013


This week’s news round-up focuses on health events and new or revised health resources.  What’s included?  A New York Times article about the question of why Americans weigh more now than we did 40 years ago, Diabetes Awareness Month, lesbian/bi/queer women and STI risk, and the relative benefits of HPV vs. pap screening.

Gut bacteriaWhy do Americans Weigh More Now than We Did 40 Years Ago?
For many people it seems clear that the “obesity epidemic” (a phrase we don’t particularly like) is due to bigger portion sizes and less physical activity.  However, a recent article in the New York Times explores one of the many alternative factors with which those in the Health At Every Size® (HAES®) community are very familiar – changes in the gut bacteria that helps us digest carbohydrates, provide vitamins, and regulate how much fat our body stores.  Click here to read the article.

National Diabetes Month 2013November is Diabetes Awareness Month!
Diabetes affects nearly 26 million Americans and an estimated 79 million people are at risk for developing the disease. In observance, the National Diabetes Education Program (NDEP) and its partners are working with individuals, families and communities to take action and encourage simple, but important lifestyle changes to improve their health – particularly if they have diabetes or are at risk for the disease.  Diabetes is definitely a preconception health issue as uncontrolled, both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes raises the risk of problems for the baby and the mother.

While the NDEP is focusing on prevention, the American Diabetes Association, which sponsors the event, is focusing on raising awareness that diabetes is a condition that affects people who have it on a daily basis.  They are inviting people with diabetes to share their photos and stories of living with the disease on Facebook as part of their “Day in the Life of…” campaign.

At Go Folic! we are always interested in healthy food.  What to cook if you have diabetes? You can download “Tasty Recipes for People with Diabetes and Their Families” by clicking here (PDF – 1 MB).

Lesbians in love - still from the Taiwanese film, Spider Lilies"Are women who have sex with women at risk for getting STIs?
The Womenshealth.gov website recently updated their health fact sheet for lesbian and bisexual health women, which provides a whole section on STI risk among women who have sex with women.  In addition to impairing fertility, untreated STIs – including some that are more likely to affect queer women,  can affect a developing fetus and raise the risk for preterm birth.  Access the health fact sheet here.

a doctor talks to her patientHPV Screening vs. Pap Smears
Finally, a new study published in the Lancet suggest that screening for the human papillomavirus (HPV) is more effective than Pap tests for protecting women against invasive cervical cancer.  This is life-saving news for the 12,340 who are diagnosed with the condition annually.  Get the full story here.


Weekly Round-Up: Women’s Health News 8.16.13


In this week’s news – more benefits to breastfeeding, the wide use of withdrawal as birth control, post-partum depression among urban women, a new HIV treatment, help for smokers who want to quit, and decreases in the U.S. infertility rate.

One Third of All U.S. Women Uses Withdrawal for Birth Control
If you and a partner have used withdrawal for birth control, you’re not alone.  A new study found that up to 1/3 of sexually active U.S. women between the ages of 15-24 has done so.  While withdrawal can be almost as effective as condoms for pregnancy prevention when used perfectly, it is a very difficult method to use, resulting in a failure rate of 30%.  While many women use withdrawal when they cannot afford more effective hormonal methods of birth control, this will hopefully become less common since the Affordable Care Act requires that all insurance plans cover contraception with no co-pay.  If you are using withdrawal, it is very important to take a daily vitamin with folic acid in case you do get pregnant (see the Go Folic! website). Click here to learn more about the study.

New Moms – Breastfeeding May Reduce Your Risk of Breast Cancer!
A new analysis published in this month’s Journal of Clinical Nursing found that breastfeeding for more than six months may safeguard nonsmoking mothers against breast cancer. The same does not seem to hold true for smoking mothers, though. These findings add to the list of benefits of breastfeeding for women and their babies. Click here to learn more.

Urban Moms at Greater Risk for Post-Partum Depression
A new Canadian study found that that women living in urban centers with more than 500,000 inhabitants were at higher risk of postpartum depression than women in other areas. Postpartum depression is a serious health concern for women and their children and women who lack of social support and/or have a history of depression are at greater risk.  To learn more about the study, click here.

Thinking of Becoming an Ex-Smoker? Meditation May Help
One of the first actions doctors recommend to a woman smoker who wants to get pregnant is to quit smoking. But that can be easier said than done. A small study conducted by the University of Oregon’s department of psychology found that learning a particular type of meditation technique might make it easier for smokers to cut down, at least on a short-term basis. Mindfulness meditation is designed to help people to relax, focus on the current moment and, essentially, go with the flow of thoughts and sensations. Click here to learn more.

Good News for Would-Be Parents – U.S. Fertily Rate is Decreasing!
A couple is considered to be infertile if they have been having unprotected vaginal intercourse for 12 months in a row without experiencing a pregnancy. According to the National Health Statistics Report, the rate of infertility among U.S. couples, ages 15-44 declined between 1982 and 2010, from 8.5% to 6.0%. Click here to download the full report (PDF).

New HIV Drug Just Approved
On August 12, 2013, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Tivicay (dolutegravir), a new drug to treat HIV-1 infection. It can be used to treat HIV-infected adults who have never taken HIV therapy (treatment-naïve) and HIV-infected adults who have previously taken HIV therapy (treatment-experienced). The drug is also approved the drug for children ages 12 years and older weighing at least 40 kilograms. Visit the FDA website to learn more.

Weekly Round-Up: Women’s Health News 8.2.13


Our top story this week involves the number of young people who report experiencing dating violence – more than 1/3 of U.S. teens and young adults, according to a new study from the Center for Innovative Public Health Research in San Clemente, California.

one in three youth have experienced dating violenceSurvey Finds that 1 in 3 Young Americans Has Suffered Dating Violence
More than one-third of U.S. teens and young adults say they’ve suffered abuse during dating and about one-third say they’ve been perpetrators of abuse, new research finds. About one-quarter say they’ve been both an abuser and a victim.  These are the results of a new survey conducted by researcher, Michele Ybarra at the Center for Innovative Public Health Research.  She and her colleagues surveyed 1,058 young people, ages14 to 20. Intimate partner violence is associated with poor school performance, poor self-esteem, depression and thoughts of suicide.  It also increases the risk for unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections through reproductive coercion (partner messing with your birth control or pressuring you to get pregnant or have unprotected sex).

plastic water bottles are among the products that contain BPATrying to Get Pregnant?  Avoid BPA, a Chemical in Plastics
A Harvard study reported this week that Bisphenol-A, or BPA, a common chemical in plastics, may hurt fertility. BPA, which is often found in products like water bottles  and food storage containers, has previously been in the headlines  due to concerns  over its long-term safety.  However, this is the first study to look at how it harms human ova (eggs), the female sex cell.  Researchers fround that exposure to BPA caused  a decrease in the percentage of eggs that matured, an increase in the percentage of eggs that degenerated,  and an increase in the number of eggs  that went through spontaneous activation —  when an egg acts like it’s been fertilized,  but it hasn’t been.  To learn more about the study, click here.

don't get a tattoo over a mole or birth mark as this may make it harder to detect a beginning skin cancerTattoos Can Hide Malignant Melanomas, Experts Say
While not exactly reproductive health news, enough of us on the Go Folic! staff have tattoes that we wanted to share this study. Our most important take-away? When choosing where to put a tattoe, avoid moles and birthmarks – the ink in tattoes can make it difficult to see changes that could be a sign of skin cancer. Read the whole study here.

Weekly Round-Up: Women’s Health News 7.26.13


This was another week full of women’s health news. If you see that we’ve missed something, please post a comment or email it to us and we will publish an addendum!

New standards for STIs screening and treatment in TeensYouth and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) As reported by the National Partnership for Women and Families, Linda Carmine of the Division of Adolescent Medicine at Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York and her colleagues provided updates on the diagnosis and management of sexually transmitted infections in adolescents and young adults, “with an emphasis on ‘what’s new’ in the field.”  The review was published in the 6/17 issue of the Journal of Pediatric and Adolescent GynecologyClick here to read a summary of the findings.

Does your reproductive health provider ask you about your stresses?Does your family planning provider ask you about the stresses in your life? A study published in the June issue of the journal, Contraception, found that, in young women who experience depression or elevated stress are less likely to consistently use hormonal contraceptive methods like the pill.  The researchers recommend that health providers address clients’ psychological and emotional status when helping them make decisions about birth control methods. Click here to read the study abstract.

What if barbie dolls looked more real than this>Barbie and Body Image – What if Barbie looked like a normal woman? It’s not exactly news that few women, if any, look like Barbie in real life.  It’s also not news that Barbie is not the best tool for encouraging healthy body image among little girls.  But what would happen if Mattel(T) modified Barbie, giving her more realistic body proportions?   One enterprising artist decided to see. Would we like her better? Would she be better for little girls’ self-esteem?  We’ll let you be the judge!  Click here to see a blonde Barbie’s before and after picture (on Upworthy)!

7 of 10 women in u.s. seek reproductive health services every year7 of 10 Women Use Reproductive Health Services A new report from the Guttmacher Institute found that 70% of U.S. women of reproductive age make at least one medical visit for sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services each year. Uninsured women are significantly less likely than either privately or Medicaid-insured women to receive SRH services. Our hope is that the provisions for women’s preventive care included in the Affordable Care Act (ACA, also known as Obamacare), will make a difference for uninsured women who are currently going without.  To read the report, click here.  To learn more about ACA requirements for women’s health care, click here.

the HPV vaccine may protect against throat cancerGet Vaccinated, Prevent Throat Cancer? A new study suggests that young women who are vaccinated against the human papillomavirus (HPV) not only protect themselves from cervical cancer, but from throat cancer as well.  HPV is responsible for up to 70 percent of oral cancers, so getting the vaccine is an important step towards keeping your throat healthy!  Click here to read more about the study.

Weekly Round-Up: Women’s Health News 7.19.13


From new treatments to gonorrhea to the role of birth control in improving maternal and child health, it was a week full of promising health news for women. Read on!

gonorrhea bacteriaBreakthrough in Treating Gonorrhea
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), gonorrhea is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases in the United States with an estimated 800,000 gonorrhea infections per year.  An increasing number of these cases involve a strain of the bacteria that is resistant to current antibiotic regimens.  However, a recent trial conducted by the CDC and the National Institutes of Health found that two new antibiotic regimens using existing drugs could be effective in treating this resistant strain.  This is exciting news since untreated gonorrhea, which can lead to Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID), is one of the leading causes of infertility in women. Visit the CDC newsroom for more information.

A healthy mom and her toddlerContraception Key To Decreasing Maternal, Child Deaths, U.N. Panel Says
The World Health Organization estimates that a woman dies from pregnancy or childbirth-related causes every 90 seconds.  Now, according to a United Nations report released this month, improving access to contraception should be a key element in efforts to reduce maternal and child deaths.  In one of our favorite sayings, Family Planning = Healthy Women = Healthy Families = Healthy Communities. To read more, see this article in the Los Angeles Times‘ “Science Now” reports.

teengirlsCalifornia’s Teen Birth Rate Continues to Drop
Over the past 20 years, California’s teen birth rate has dropped from a peak of 70.9 per every 1000 girls, ages 15-10 in 1991 to a low of 28.0.  California state attributes the decline to an aggressive multi-pronged approach that includes comprehensive sex education in high schools, community-based programs that promote parent-child communication about sex, and services and support for pregnant and parenting teens.  We believe that another contributing factor is the State’s commitment to increasing teen access to family planning services. To read the press release, click here.

Good news for HIV+ women who want to get pregnant!
A new National Institutes of Health (NIH) study found that the anti-HIV drugs recommended for pregnant HIV+ women do not appear to increase their children’s risk for language delay. Read more…

birthcontrolpillsWhy do some women get pregnant on the pill?
Amanda Mascarelli tackled this question this week in the Washington Post’s Health & Science section.  She started looking for the anser after getting pregnant twice while on the pill.  While most on-the-pill pregnancies occur due to missed pills, a small percentage of women will get pregnant even when using the method correctly.  The other women?   Read how her research lead her to switch to the IUC here.

Weekly Round-Up: Women’s Health News


This week’s stories include vitamin news, conception timing, new resources on HPV, as well as new tools for doing health promotion online.  Read on!

conceiving in the month of may, if you live in the northern hemisphere, may increase your risk of having a premie - one possible reason to get a flu shot before you get pregnantGetting Pregnant in May Might Raise Odds of Premature Birth Due to Flu Exposure, Another Reason to Get a Flu Shot!

Giving birth prematurely (early) can have many repercussions for a baby’s health, including breathing, heart and brain problems. A new study found that children conceived during the month of May faced a 10% greater risk for premature birth compared to babies conceived at other times of the year.  Researchers believe that the reason could be that expectant mothers are more likely to be exposed to the flu close to the time they are about to give birth, another reason to get a flu shot if you are thinking about getting pregnant.  Click here to read more.

What is HPV?  New Information Page from the CDC

Genital human  papillomavirus (also called HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted  infection (STI). There are more than 40 types of HPV. HPV can cause serious  health problems, including genital warts and certain cancers. Click here to see the CDC’s newly updated information page about HPV.

new research from uc berkeley looks at sunshine, vitamin d and bone strength and qualityVitamin D and Bone Health

We build our bones when we’re young (up to age 26). Then, as we get older, they get weaker and more fragile. Now a team of researchers with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and the University of California (UC) Berkeley has shown that this bone-aging process can be significantly accelerated through deficiency of vitamin D – the sunshine vitamin. Click here to learn more.

AIDS.gov has a newly updated social media toolkit pageNew Media Toolkit for Health Promotion

As a part of its technical assistance and training efforts, AIDS.gov provides resources on how to use new media. These tools aren’t just for those working in the field of AIDS/HIV prevention – they are valuable for anyone working to promote health.  The agency recently updated its “New Media Tools” webpage to make it easier to locate and use these resources.  For more, see this post on the AIDS.gov blog.

In Case You Missed It! Monday’s Weekly News Round-Up


In case you missed them, here are some of the major news stories that came out regarding nutrition, vitamins and women’s health last week. We decided moved our weekly news round-up from Saturday to Monday in order to reach more people and include breaking news that comes in over the weekend.

If you’re caught in the BART strike, but on some other form of public transit, this might be the perfect way to catch up!  In the news this past week, PTSD, Hep C, battling gender violence world-wide, and some helpful new health resources from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Is someone you love a baby boomer?  Tell them to get tested for Hep C!

Baby boomers are more likely to get infected with Hep C!Hep C is a very serious form of hepititis; as the most common chronic bloodborne pathogen in the United States it is a leading cause of complications from chronic liver disease. Last week the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) expanded 2004 CDC recommendations for HCV screening in persons at high risk for infection by including so including one-time screening for adults born between 1945 and 1965. The goal is to reduce confusion among healthcare providers, increase awareness of the importance of hepatitis C screening and improve testing rates—ultimately identifying millions of Americans previously unaware of their infection status and preventing the associated liver disease and deaths attributable to undiagnosed chronic HCV infection.  To learn more:

  1. Read the AIDS.gov blog post;
  2. Click here to download the full recommendations.

1 in 3 Women Worldwide Experiences Partner Abuse

Eve Ensler and Christine Schuler Deschryver interviewed by Amy Goodman

A new World Health Organization Report highlights violence against women as a “global health problem of epidemic proportions.” The report represents the first systematic study of global data on the prevalence of violence against women – experienced by 35% of all women worldwide, with intimate partner violence being the most common type, affecting 30% of all women.  Impacts range from broken bones to lower birthweight babies, pregnancy-related complications, depression, impaired social functioning and higher STD rates. The report also includes a review of how health professionals can respond to the problem.  To learn more:

  1. Visit the World Health Organization to read the press release and to download the report, as well as related documents;
  2. Click here to watch Amy Goodman’s interview of Eve Ensler and Congolese Activist, Christine Deschryver to learn about the City of Joy, a revolutionary community for women survivors of gender violence in Bukavu (written transcript also available);
  3. If you life in San Francisco, and either are experiencing intimate partner violence yourself, or have a friend or loved one who is, LEAP (Look to End Abuse Permanently) can help.  LEAP is an organization of healthcare providers and volunteers dedicated to ending intimate partner violence and family violence by establishing screening, treatment, and prevention programs in the health care setting. http://www.leapsf.org/

New HHS Tools

Person using a tablet to surf the InternetThe U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released two new tools this week:

  1. The new HealthCare.gov website will help uninsured Americans to select and sign up for health care coverage that best meets their needs.  Open enrollment begins  October 1. For Spanish speaking consumers, CuidadoDeSalud.gov will also be updated to match HealthCare.gov’s new consumer focus.  Both sites are designed to be viewed on smart phones, as well as computers and tablets.  If you live in California, Covered California (http://www.coveredca.com/) provides the same services in English, Arabic, Armenian, Chinese, Farsi, Hmong, Khmer, Korean, Lao, Russian, Spanish, Tagalog, and Vietnamese.
  2. The myfamily smart phone app allows you to set and customize health alerts and reminders so that you can better manage the health of your family.  It also allows you to keep track of past medical check-ups and vaccinations and to access health information available on healthfinder.gov.  To learn more, go to http://www.healthfinder.gov/stayconnected/.

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on PTSD Awareness Month

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a severe anxiety disorder that can occur when people experience a traumatic event.  PTSD can affect anyone – from service men and women returning from the horrors of war to abused children and the survivors of rape, domestic violence, or natural disasters. June was PTSD Awareness Month.  Secretary Sebelius issued a special statement highlighting the month “as an important opportunity to recognize and pledge ourselves to year-round support for the millions of Americans who are working to overcome this challenging and debilitating condition.”  Click here to read the full statement.

Today is National HIV Testing Day, One Woman’s Story


Today is the 19th annual National HIV Testing Day. More than 1 million people are living with HIV in the United States, but 1 in 5 don’t know they are infected. This makes testing one of our best prevention tools. If everyone in the U.S. who had HIV knew their status, we’d be one step closer to a world without HIV/AIDS.

I started my career in public health as a health educator in the late 1980s.  One of the first projects I worked on was the Wedge Program, the first HIV education program for youth to make HIV+ speakers a focus of AIDS education.  I got to know and love many of the women and men who so bravely shared their stories at a time when HIV+ people were still being fired, denied health care, and ostracized by their families.

This was also a time when most people were diagnosed as HIV+ after they’d already progressed to AIDS and the only treatment available was AZT, which by itself wasn’t very effective.  I lost many of the people I loved to the disease at that time, watching them succumb to the cancers, pneumonia, or mental decline that seemed an almost inevitable part of an HIV diagnosis back then.

Times have changed a lot since then.

With current treatments, HIV is a chronic disease rather than a death sentence.  HIV+ people now have workplace protections and, specially in the Bay Area, are no longer stigmitized as they once were.   I celebrate that many of my HIV+ friends survived to see and benefit by this day. I still miss those who did not.

They key is for everyone to get tested for HIV at least once.

The key to living well with HIV is finding out one’s status early enough to stop the virus from progressing.  This is also one of the keys to a future world in which HIV no longer exists.  That is why health professionals now recommend that everyone aged 15 to 65 get tested for HIV infection at least once. And people with a higher risk for the infection should get tested at least annually.

Pregnant BellyGetting tested is especially important for women who are pregnant or men and women who are planning a pregnancy.  While in the early days of the epidemic, many babies born to HIV+ mothers also had HIV, that is no longer the case.  Medical experts now know how to help an HIV+ person safely conceive. Also, if an HIV+ woman gets proper treatment during pregnancy, she has a very excellent chance of giving birth to a baby born without HIV.  Click here to learn more.

My Testing Experience

I got tested for HIV in the mid-80s.  I’d just found out that a friend and former sexual partner had been diagnosed with AIDS.  At that time, you had to wait two weeks to get your results.  The two weeks of waiting were extremely difficult.  I was not in a relationship at the time, but was fearful not only of the diagnosis, but of how I would tell my family, as well as my ex-girlfriend that she might be at risk.

By the time I went to get my results, I had not slept for two nights and was feeling very anxious.  However, the my test counselor (I went to Castro-Mission Health Center) was wonderful and put me at ease before I got my results.  After telling me that they were negative (meaning I didn’t have HIV), she helped me to figure out: 1) how to make sure that I protected myself from then on; 2) how to use the emotions I experienced during the test process to become a better health educator.

Knowing your status is empowering!

I felt relieved and empowered when I got my results.  I am thankful that I got tested when I did because it helped me both personally and professionally.

We can all make mistakes, especially when it comes to love and lust. Which is one of the reasons it’s so important for everyone to get tested at least once.

If you find out that you are infected with HIV (if you test positive), you can seek medical care and live a longer, healtheir life. It will also lower your chance of passing HIV to others. If you find out that you don’t have HIV, you can take steps to stay that way.

Have you been tested?

If you live in San Francisco, follow the San Francisco AIDS Foundation mobile testing van on Twitter @testmeSF.  If you don’t live or work in San Francisco, or if you’d prefer getting tested at a clinic, you can find an HIV testing site near you by using the CDC’s STD and HIV testing site locater.

Shivaun Nestor, Go Folic! CoordinatorThis post is dedicated wtih love to my friend, Danny Keenan, who worked to establish one of the Nation’s first treatment programs for HIV+ youth, at Larking Street Youth Services.

~ Shivaun Nestor, Go Folic! Coordinator

Weekly Round-Up: Women’s Health News!


Happy Summer!  With last week’s news about Plan B and news about dropping HPV rates among teens who have gotten the HPV, youth health seems to be a major focus right now.  Here are the stories that really caught our attention, along with links to learn more.

teengirlsHPV Rates among U.S. Teens  Drop Since Vaccination Began
The prevalence of the human papillomavirus (HPV) among U.S. teenage girls has dropped by more than half since a vaccine was introduced in 2006, even though vaccination rates are still relatively low, according to a CDC study that was published on Wednesday in the Journal of Infectious Diseases.  To learn more, go to Women’s Health Policy Report.

New CDC Outreach Effort to A/PI Community On HEP B
Infographic: Hepatitis B among Americans born in Asia and the Pacific IslandsDid you know that people who were born in Asia and the Pacific Islands represent less than 5 percent of the U.S. population, but account for more than half of the 1.2 million Americans estimated to be living with hepatitis B? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) just launched Know Hepatitis B, the first national multilingual, multi-year communications campaign to increase testing for hepatitis B among A/PI folks. To learn more, go to: http://www.cdc.gov/knowhepatitisb/. Click on the image at left for a great infographic on this topic.

What does the ACA (Obamacare) mean for you?
The Affordable Care Act (ACA), better known as Obamacare,  is set to be fully in place by 2014.  What does it mean for the average person? KQED public radio has developed an easy-to-understand orientationto help people understand the ACA. Go to: http://www.kqed.org/news/health/obamacare/obamacare-guide.jsp#4.  Click here to learn more about preventive services that are covered for women, including

Vitamins-Step-2Do you know what’s in the herbs and supplements that you’re taking?
National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) and National Library of Medicine (NLM) have just launched a Dietary Supplement Label Database. The DSLD contains a searchable database of the full label contents from a large number of dietary supplement products marketed in the U.S. Go to: http://www.dsld.nlm.nih.gov/dsld/

R1129Skipping Breakfast Could Raise Your Risk for Diabetes
A new study found that when women skipped the morning meal, they experienced  insulin resistance.  This is a condition where a person needs more insulin to bring their blood sugar into a normal range. While the study was done on women with a body mass index (BMI) of over 25, we would be surprised if skipping breakfast wouldn’t result in the same type of insulin resistance among all women, regardless of their weight. Click here to learn more.

Could a Little Alcohol be Safe During Pregnancy?
Pregnant women are told to avoid alcohol  at all costs.   However, a new study published in the British Medical Journal found that moderate drinking (3 to 7 glasses of alcohol per week) didn’t harm developement of a fetus’ nervous system.  Go to WebMD to learn more: http://www.webmd.com/baby/news/20130618/could-moderate-drinking-be-safe-during-pregnancy

Folic Acid, the Men’s Vitamin? Folic Facts for Father’s Day


fathers-day-wallpapers-pictures

“Recognizing and preventing men’s health problems is not just a man’s issue. Because of its impact on wives, mothers, daughters, and sisters, men’s health is truly a family issue.” ~ Congressman Bill Richardson (Congressional Record, H3905-H3906, May 24, 1994)

If you thought that folic acid was only for women, think again!  Folic acid is a B Vitamin that plays a crucial role in healthy cell division.  It is essential for the formation of DNA – the blueprint at the heart of every one of our cells, which makes it as important for men as it is for women.  This is why we decided to focus our Men’s Health Week (June 10-17) and Father’s Day post on how folic acid and folate (the form found in foods) benefit men.

Folic Acid & Sperm – Facts for Future Fathers

healthy spermFolic acid is as important for future fathers as it is for moms to be.  Fertility experts have known for a long time that a poor diet can impair both sperm count and motility (how well the sperm move, which is crucial for fertilizing an egg).  A 2002 controlled study in the Netherlands published in the journal, Fertility and Sterility, found that supplementing the diet with folic acid and zinc could significantly increase the quantity and quality of sperm in men who were having trouble getting their partner pregnant.

The first study to look at the effects of a father’s diet on genetic abnormalities found that men who ate high levels of folate—more than 700 micrograms (mcg) per day—had up to 30% fewer sperm with extra or missing chromosomes.  According to Suzanne Young, M.P.H., a researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Public Health, and coordinator of the study, “These abnormalities would cause either miscarriages or children with genetic problems if the sperm fertilized an egg.”  The study also found that the more folate a man got, the lower the levels of the defect.

Folate and Heart Health

I love my heartHeart disease is the leading cause of death for men in the United States.  In 2009 it was responsible for killing 307,225 men – or 1 in every 4 male deaths (see this CDC fact sheet to learn more). Getting enough folate and other B vitamins (especially B-6 and B-12) supports heart health.  They do this by reducing levels of homocysteine, an amino acid found in the blood. Too much homocysteine is related to a higher risk of:

  • Heart disease;
  • Stroke;
  • Peripheral vascular disease (fatty deposits in peripheral arteries).

Both genetics and diet affect homocysteine levels. Folic acid and other B vitamins (especially B-6 and B-12) help break down homocysteine in the body. So far, no study has proved that folic acid supplements reduce the risk of heart disease and researchers are trying to find out how much folic acid, B-6 and/or B-12 are needed to lower homocysteine levels. However, the American Heart Association recommends that people at risk for heart disease get enough folic acid and vitamins B-6 and B-12 in their diet (read on to find out how).

Other Potential Benefits

There is ongoing research on folic acid and its impact on a number of health conditions and diseases. While many of these studies are still preliminary, they suggest that adequate folate / folic acid may play a major role in reducing the risk for developing depression, certain forms of cancer, hearing loss, and Alzheimer’, among others.

How much folic acid do men need?

Since folate and folic acid aren’t stored in the body, it’s important to get at least the recommended amount of between 400-800 mcg everyday.  While it’s impossible to overdose on folic acid, getting more than 1000 mcg daily isn’t recommended, as doing so can mask a Vitamin-12 deficiency, a condition that can lead to neurological damage.  In fact, supplements of 1000 mcg of folic acid are only available by prescription.

How do I get enough folic acid?

cereal with strawberries - high in folate and folic acidMost experts recommend eating a diet that is high in folate, as well as taking a daily multi-vitamin with 400 mcg of folic acid.  Since the body can only absorb 50% of the folate that we get from foods, taking a supplement with both folate and other B-vitamins will ensure that you are meeting your daily needs.  If you dislike taking pills, try eating a bowl of breakfast cereal that is fortified with 400 mcg of folic acid instead; we absorb 85% of the folic acid in fortified foods. Click here for a list of cereals that have the recommended amount from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

What about food sources?

food with folic acidFoods that are Many foods are naturally high in folic acid, with beans, liver and leafy greens like spinach containing the highest amounts.  Click here for a list of the “folate top 10.” For a more extended list of folate-rich foods, check this food chart from the USDA. Want to know how to cook all of these great foods?  Browse our list of folate-full recipes, or download a copy of one of our recipe brochures: Easy Snacks (English) | Soulful Recipes (English) | Spanish | Chinese.