Women who want to procreate are generally told to take folic acid supplements and consume foods that are rich in this particular nutrient to help prevent congenital neural tube defects. Men who wish to become fathers could also benefit from this type of diet, as it is now thought that folic acid may have a positive influence on the quality of their sperm.
It is estimated that up to 4% of sperm carry either too many or too few chromosomes, which is associated with failure to conceive and miscarriages, as well as children who are born with conditions such as Down syndrome, also known as trisomy 21. We do not yet know why these types of defects occur, nor do we know why they happen so frequently.
A group of researchers have observed a link between a diet that is rich in folic acid and an inferior number of sperm with chromosomal abnormalities. In the study they conducted among 89 men, the researchers found that those who consumed the most folic acid had 20 to 30% less abnormal sperm (aneuploidy) than the men who consumed very little.
This study is the first to suggest that the paternal diet could contribute in improving the quality of sperm, but not their quantity. Folic acid is found in dark green vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, green peas and Brussels sprouts, as well as in corn, dried peas, dried beans, lentils and oranges. Whole wheat breads and foods that are enriched with folic acid also provide substantial quantities of this vitamin. Therefore, women and men who are thinking of becoming parents could indeed benefit from healthy lifestyle habits prior to conceiving. This includes quitting smoking (if need be), being physically active regularly, consuming alcohol in moderation, and having a diet that includes at least five servings of fruits and vegetables every day.