When couples are trying to conceive, the focus is often on the woman’s health. Many a time, most of the implemented measures aimed at optimizing her fertility and improving her overall health.
There are no surprises there as the female carries the baby, and it is instinctive to focus heavily on her when it comes to matters concerning conception.
However, women make up only half of the parties involved in the conception, and as such, to guarantee the best results possible, you must pay equal attention to the male side of the equation.
For women, the terrain of lifestyle habits for improving fertility and promoting conception is almost entirely mapped out. Common recommendations from qualified healthcare practitioners and regulatory bodies include kicking drinking and smoking habits, cutting back on strenuous workout regimens, eating a healthier diet, and taking a prenatal vitamin.
However, when it comes to male fertility, the consensus can begin to disintegrate. One prominent bone of contention among many experts is whether men should take a prenatal vitamin.
Should Men Take Prenatal Vitamins?
The short answer (as with many similar medical inquiries) is it depends.
Researchers in the field have clearly defined why women should take prenatal vitamins. The consensus is clearcut, and prenatal vitamins are often one of the first supplements your healthcare practitioner will recommend.
However, with men, things can get a bit iffy.
Note: May physicians recommend a prenatal vitamin dosage for expectant mothers that starts at least a month before conception and extends to the postnatal period.
How They Work
In expectant mothers, taking prenatal vitamins is key to providing your baby with essential nutrients that can promote proper growth and prevent congenital disabilities. These supplements achieve this effect by providing her body with three crucial minerals: iron, calcium, and folic acid.
Iron in the body is critical to proper blood flow, and as such, this mineral can help improve blood, and oxygen, delivery to the baby to ensure correct development. In the same vein, calcium helps to strengthen the mother’s bones, revitalizing them as the baby taps into the existing supply of the mineral.
However, folic acid is arguably the most important of them all.
Folic acid is critical to the proper development of the baby’s nervous system (brain and spinal cord). A deficiency of the mineral in the mother’s body can cause severe congenital disabilities like anencephaly and spina bifida.
The importance of folic acid in baby development is further buttressed by the fact that this mineral is one key reason why prenatal vitamins exist in the first place.
Several studies point to the critical importance and efficacy of folic acid. As a result, most prenatal vitamin concoctions contain about 1,000 mcg of folic acid, the recommended intake for pregnant mothers, and more than twice the recommended amount for other adults.
From the overview above, it is easy to figure out why prenatal vitamins are an essential recommendation for pregnant mothers and women trying to conceive.
It may also be easy to infer that men should not need these supplements as the baby doesn’t grow in them. However, the scientific consensus is not that precise, not yet at least.
Their Relevance in Men
Research into the efficacy of prenatal vitamin use in men is still minimal. As such, most of our inference on the matter will come from a couple of indirectly related research studies.
In one 2014 study, after running a series of tests on rats, the researchers found that a deficiency in folic acid (amongst the male rats) was associated with an increased amount of DNA damage in spermatocytes and created a consequent decrease in fertility and increase in congenital disabilities.
This study showed clearly that the deficiency of certain micronutrients in the male could directly influence the conception and development of the offspring. However, while it does indicate that proper supplementation can help mitigate congenital malfunctions, it is still unclear if such supplementation can create positive effects in males without such deficiencies.
Furthermore, one 2016 review of studies on the relationship between nutrition, semen quality, and fertility in human males concluded that the presence of traces of antioxidants like vitamin C, vitamin E, thioredoxin, and glutathione is critical in determining semen quality. Consequently, the researchers inferred that taking the right antioxidant supplements could positively affect the semen quality markers in infertile males.
Hence, it is easy to infer that the current scientific literature reveals the potential positives that prenatal supplementation can have in males with nutrient deficiencies but is still ambiguous on its effect on those on balance diets that fulfill all their antioxidants needs.
The primary safety concern when it comes to male use of prenatal vitamins is nutrient overdoses.
Many prenatal vitamin concoctions contain components in significantly higher measures than the Institute of Medicine’s recommended daily dietary allowance.
While these excessive amounts of minerals and vitamins can aid the mother cope better with the intense nutrient demands of conception and pregnancy, for men, these excesses can lead to potentially harmful nutrient overdoses.
With many prenatal vitamin formulas, two of the most critical minerals of concern is iron and folic acid.
Many prenatal vitamin brands contain as much as 30mg of iron per pill, which is almost twice the recommended intake level of 18mg per day. In rare cases, iron overdoses can be fatal. Hence, if you are already consuming an iron-rich diet, you should consider avoiding prenatal vitamins with these mineral levels.
Another common offender is folic acid, a mineral you will find in almost every prenatal vitamin concoction.
Folic acid does wonders for women both in the conception phase and during gestation. This mineral can help to foster proper neural development of the child and help prevent several congenital disabilities. Hence, prenatal vitamins can often contain as much as 1000mcg of folic acid, which is the recommended daily amount for women during pregnancy.
However, for men, folate levels this high can cause complications. The daily recommended folate intake for adult males is only 400mcg, less than half what you will find in most prenatal vitamin brands. Plus, in most cases, men with a healthy balanced diet profile are already meeting their folic acid requirements from their meals.
Buttressing this risk of potential folate overdose is one series of randomized trials at the University of Southern California that discovered that men who took a folate supplement daily posted double the risk of prostate cancer as men who didn’t take one.
Hence, the best safety practice for men taking prenatal vitamins is to check the levels of vitamins contained in their supplements to avoid potentially harmful overdoses.
For the best results, you are better off sticking to dedicated male prenatal vitamins that do not go too heavy on iron and folate but instead focus on providing you with trace minerals and vitamins that may help promote fertility. Some of these nutrients include zinc, selenium, and vitamin C.
Other Ways to Improve Male Fertility
Taking prenatal vitamins is not the only way to boost your fertility as a man, improve sperm health, and increase the chances of conception and healthy pregnancy.
Other positive lifestyle practices men can incorporate during the preconception phase include:
- Sticking to a healthy, well-balanced diet
- Improving your sleep hygiene
- Exercise more to reduce stress
- Cut out smoking
- Limit alcohol intake
- Cut down on the caffeine.
- Schedule a preconception checkup
- Keep heat-emitting devices like laptops away from the testicles.