“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
Folic 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
Heart 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;
- 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?
Most 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?
Foods 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.