Folic acid if you want to become pregnant: Also important for father

It has been known for some time that the risk of certain congenital abnormalities, such as spina bifida (spina bifida) and cleft lip (cleft palate), decreases with sufficient folic acid (vitamin B11) intake by the pregnant woman during the first months of pregnancy. Research has shown that the folic acid intake of future fathers also plays a role in pregnancy, both in the chance of pregnancy and in the child’s congenital defects.

Folic acid

Folic acid is a water-soluble vitamin complex. It is also called vitamin B11 and in Germany, France and the United States it is also called vitamin B9. You can find folic acid in supplements (tablets) or folic acid-enriched foods such as breakfast cereals. This folic acid is converted into folate in the body. Folate in its natural form is found in green vegetables such as spinach, Brussels sprouts and broccoli, but also in asparagus, fruit, whole grain products, dairy and organ meat.

Recommended daily amount of folic acid

The recommended amount for adult men and women is 300 micrograms per day. For women who want to become pregnant and women who are breastfeeding, the recommended daily amount of folic acid is even 400 to 500 micrograms. It is almost impossible to get this amount through food and therefore pregnant women will have to take folic acid tablets. This should be started approximately four weeks before possible fertilization and continued at least until the tenth week of pregnancy. During breastfeeding there is also an increased need for folic acid and it is wise to use folic acid supplements.

Folic acid deficiency

Not all Dutch people get the recommended amount of folic acid with their standard diet. When a folic acid deficiency has developed, it first manifests itself in rapidly dividing tissues, such as red blood cells, the cells that line the inside of the intestines and the nerve cells of the unborn child. Therefore, a deficiency of folic acid can lead to, among other things, anemia, intestinal disorders and birth defects in the child. This condition can occur after about twenty weeks of consuming a diet with too little folic acid.

Expectant fathers and folic acid

It is crucial not only for expectant mothers, but also for expectant fathers to consume a diet that contains sufficient folic acid. This improves sperm quality and reduces the risk of miscarriages and congenital defects in their future child.

Sperm quality

A study conducted by Canadian researchers in 2013 showed that mice that consumed too little folic acid produced poorer quality sperm than mice that received the recommended daily amount of folic acid. In the mice with a folic acid deficiency, changes occurred in the DNA of the sperm. These changes could be related to chronic diseases, such as diabetes, in the children.

Miscarriages and birth defects

Mice pregnant with a male mouse with a folic acid deficiency had more miscarriages and birth defects in the babies compared to mice pregnant with a male mouse with a normal amount of folic acid. None of the female mice had a folic acid deficiency. As many as 27% of the mice with a father with folic acid deficiency had visible congenital abnormalities, such as hydrocephalus, spinal defects and limb defects, compared to 3% of the mice with normal folic acid concentrations.

Tips for expectant fathers

Make sure you get enough folic acid in the period before and around conception. The best way to do this is to eat enough (green) vegetables and fruit. Do you know that you are not much of a fruit and vegetable eater? Then take a daily folic acid supplement or a multivitamin pill that contains the daily recommended amount of folic acid.

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