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can folic acid help with fertility

Does Folic Acid Help with Fertility?

If you’re struggling to conceive, your doctor may talk with you about fertility testing or discuss your health history to determine what could be interfering with getting pregnant. One aspect that will likely be examined is your nutritional intake, as certain vitamins and minerals play substantial roles in the biological functions that support conception. Folic acid intake is a specific vitamin that may be discussed.

Folic acid can be found in both fortified and natural foods, but a lot of women and men do not get enough in their everyday diets. However, the big question is, can folic acid help with fertility? Let’s take a closer look at this essential vitamin and why it may be important to both men and women, especially when it comes to fertility.

What is Folic Acid?

Folic acid is one of several B vitamins (B9), which is actually referred to as folate. Folic acid (the supplement form of folate) is incredibly important to the human body, as it is necessary for the body to create new and healthy cells. Unfortunately, the human body does not produce this vitamin on its own, so it must come from the food you eat.

Folic acid plays a role in cell division, red blood cell development, and even the production of DNA. Therefore, it is truly important for everyone to get enough folic acid in their diets, but this particular B vitamin is especially important for women trying to conceive.

Folic Acid and Male Fertility

The recognition that folic acid is important for women is fairly common knowledge, but most don’t know that the vitamin can be just as important for men. Men should get at least 400 micrograms of folate or folic acid in their everyday nutritional intake.

Folic acid and zinc are commonly tied to male fertility, and a number of research efforts have taken place to determine just how important folic acid may be to sperm quality. Some research does suggest that folic acid and male fertility are linked. For example, one study of both fertile and subfertile men in 2002 found that folic acid and zinc increased the production of sperm by as much as 74 percent.

Several similar studies exist that show that folate may help with sperm count, motility, and quality. However, there have been some conflicting research findings as well. A six-month study concluded that 5mg of folic acid combined with zinc did not significantly aid conception or improve sperm quality. Nevertheless, if you are a male looking to improve the chances of conception, keeping your folate intake in check or supplementing with folic acid may be a good decision.

Folic Acid and Female Fertility

All women who are of childbearing age and have the potential to get pregnant should get 400 micrograms of folic acid daily. The vitamin is important to fertility potential and also during early pregnancy.

To understand why folic acid can be so important for women who are trying to get pregnant, consider what happens after an egg is fertilized by sperm and an embryo begins: cells begin to divide and multiply in numbers. As noted earlier, folic acid is hugely important for cell division and development. Therefore, folic acid is understandably important during the earliest stages of pregnancy but may be just as important for fertility.

Some research suggests that taking folic acid may actually help support a female’s ability to conceive. Supplementing with folic acid may improve success when undergoing fertility treatments, and is thought to encourage ovulation, even though the research is limited. For this reason, many fertility specialists will recommend a good folic acid supplement during treatment, even if the treatment is something like in-vitro fertilization (IVF).

Pregnancy and Folic Acid

During pregnancy, doctors most often prescribe a good multivitamin with folic acid. The minimun recommended daily intake of folic acid for pregnant women is 600mcg daily, but several studies show that 1000mcg or even 1500mg daily show continued benefits.  The amount can also vary depending on your specific situation and health history or risks. For example, if there is a family history of developmental delays or autism, an obstetrician may recommend a higher daily intake.

One of the most common problems that can occur if the female does not get enough folic acid during pregnancy is neural tube defects in the baby. Neural tube defects affect about 3,000 pregnancies every year in the United States.

Babies born with neural tube defects (NTDs) have severe defects at birth that can affect the spine and brain, such as spina bifida (fetal spinal cord development abnormalities) and encephalocele (fetal brain protrusion through the skull). Folic acid taken before conception and especially during the first stages of pregnancy could potentially prevent 70 percent of neural tube defects.

Beyond NTDs, folic acid may also offer other benefits for the growing baby, such as:

Not all women who are pregnant will have the same folic acid needs. Therefore, it is important to work closely with your doctor to determine what supplements should be taken during pregnancy and how much.

Foods and Supplements with Folic Acid

Folate and folic acid can be found in a lot of foods that you probably already eat. The vitamin is used to fortify certain foods, such as juice, bread, and breakfast cereal, purely because so many people do not get enough folate in their everyday diets in the United States. Even though efforts have been made to fortify common foods, the insufficiency rate for folate is still at around 20 percent among men and women in all age groups.

Beyond eating fortified foods, folate is naturally present in quite a few fresh foods. Some of the foods that are high in folic acid include:

  • White rice and wheat germ
  • Spinach, turnip greens, and mustard greens
  • Asparagus, Brussel sprouts, and broccoli
  • Tomato juice
  • Orange juice
  • Papaya, bananas, and oranges
  • Green peas, kidney beans, and black-eyed peas
  • Beef liver

If you do not get enough natural folate in your diet or folic acid with fortified foods, it is important to look for a good dietary supplement. You can find folic acid in a lot of good multivitamins for both men and women. When taking folic acid in supplemental form, try to adhere to a continuous regimen and take the vitamin every day. Folic acid does break down relatively quickly, so it is important to replace what is lost daily.

Risks Associated with Folic Acid Supplementation

It is important to discuss your specific folic acid or folate needs with your care provider to determine how much you should be taking. While the vitamin is important, it is possible for some people to take too much and cause problems. And, folic acid supplements may interfere with certain prescription medications.

High doses of folic acid can lead to excess unmetabolized folic acid in the blood, and this can be linked to several concerning health conditions. For example, heightened intake may mask problems with a B12 deficiency, may contribute to mental decline, and may even elevate the risk of certain cancers, however, in young, otherwise healthy individuals these risks are very low. 

Eating foods rich in folate to get the B9 your body needs can be a better option, as natural folate intake is not likely to cause problems even if you consume a great deal. However, the risks of not getting enough folate are considerable when you are trying to get pregnant, so be sure to work with your doctor to find a dosage level that works best for you.

Final Thoughts on Folic Acid and Fertility

Folic acid and fertility have been shown to be related, whether you are speaking of males or females. While the research into just how important is not firmly established, what we do currently know shows that this is an important nutrient for fertility, but is most definitely important for a healthy baby when pregnancy occurs. Therefore, it is always important to examine folate intake and determine if you may need a folic acid supplement to support your efforts to conceive and have a healthy baby.

At the Fertility Center, we can talk with you about folic acid and how it can help with fertility. We want you to know it is completely possible to get pregnant and raise a healthy baby. We’d love to talk to you further about your fertility options. Please contact us today!