Can Folic Acid For Fertility Help Us Conceive?

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When it comes to a healthy pregnancy that results in a healthy child, folic acid is an absolute necessity. If you're trying to conceive, though, are there additional benefits for preconception folic acid for fertility? At The Fertility Institute, we're committed to sharing the latest research and fertility guidelines with our patients. This is what you should know about folic acid for men and women when it comes to fertility.

What is folic acid?

Folate is one of the B-vitamins that's essential to your overall health throughout your life. Its synthetic form is known as folic acid. This vitamin helps with cell metabolism and the formation of new cells in your body.

This vitamin is more important for pregnant women—and even women of child-bearing age who aren't planning to get pregnant. Women of child-bearing age are advised to take at least 400 micrograms of folic acid each day in case they do get pregnant. This is because folic acid is crucial during the first few weeks of a fetus' development, often before the woman knows she's pregnant. During early development, folic acid helps form the neural tube in the fetus (the precursor to the brain and spinal cord). A folic acid deficiency during this time can lead to major, lifelong birth defects in the baby's brain or spine.

Because of this, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends the following guidelines for daily folic acid intake:

  • Women of child-bearing age: 400mcg
  • Pregnant women: 600mcg
  • Breastfeeding women: 500mcg
  • General adult population: 400mcg

Your doctor may recommend additional folic acid if you suffer from diabetes or epilepsy, if you've had previous pregnancies with neural tube defects, or you're a heavy drinker.

What foods have folic acid?

The best way to get the recommended amount of folate is through a healthy, well-balanced diet. Foods that are high in folate include:

  • Spinach
  • Asparagus
  • Pumpkin
  • Oysters
  • Carrots
  • Okra
  • Broccoli
  • Beef liver
  • Black-eyed peas
  • Avocados

Many other foods are fortified with folic acid, such as breads, cereals, corn masa flour, pastas, rice, and other grain-based foods.

Because of the importance of this vitamin during pregnancy, many women should use folic acid supplements to ensure they're meeting their recommended daily intake. Ask your doctor for recommendations for the best folic acid supplements. You can also learn more about fertility treatment diets here.

Folic acid and female fertility

Folic acid can have a powerful effect on female fertility, both before and after conception. For women who are struggling to conceive, folic acid can help prevent early pregnancy defects that can lead to miscarriage.

Folic acid and female fertility benefits don't stop there. As noted, folic acid helps with cell metabolism throughout the body, including within your ovaries. One study on supplementation for women who were trying to conceive found that:

"[U]se of a folic acid supplement in women undergoing IVF helped optimize the homocysteine pathway in follicular fluid, which was associated with better embryo quality and a greater chance of becoming pregnant; a 2-fold increase of monofollicular fluid folate was associated with a 3.3 times greater chance of becoming pregnant."

Folate also plays a large role in stress and inflammation in your body. Increased stress also causes the body to need more folate in general. Stressors, ranging from advanced maternal age to lifestyle habits like smoking, can impact a woman's ability to conceive. Appropriate amounts of folic acid in your diet can help counteract effects of this stress.

Folic acid and male fertility

While there is clear research on the benefits of folic acid for fertility in women, the research is mixed when it comes to folic acid and male fertility.

Some studies have suggested a link between folic acid intake and male fertility. In particular, a double-blind study led by Dr. Wai Yee Wong of the University Medical Center Nijmegen in the Netherlands studied men struggling with male factor infertility. They found that those who had been taking folic acid and zinc supplements for 26 weeks experienced a 74% increase in the amount of normal sperm in their semen. This study suggests that folic acid can actually improve the quality of a man’s sperm while lowering the risk of sperm abnormalities that could interfere with conception.

However, a larger double-blind study that was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2020 studied couples who were planning infertility treatments. They found no evidence of higher live birth rates among men who took zinc/folic acid supplements.

What does this mean if you're struggling with male infertility? Put simply, fertility is a complex process. It's best to start with a semen evaluation to determine the cause(s) of your fertility challenges. From there, your doctor can recommend treatments to fix or manage any issues they find.

Also, we know that folic acid is an integral part of overall health and it's a low-cost preventative approach. So, while folic acid might not have a direct measurable impact on male fertility, your doctor may still recommend supplements if you have any nutritional deficiencies or low sperm quality.

Get help with your fertility questions

One of the reasons The Fertility Institute has such a strong record of success throughout the years is that we work hard to make sure our patients truly understand their fertility options. A single supplement or diet change may help with fertility challenges, but it's not usually a cure-all. At our New Orleans fertility clinic, folic acid is just one of the many topics we discuss with our patients who are trying to conceive. Other lifestyle choices, screening for other related conditions, and fertility testing are also integral to our treatment approach.

If you're in Louisiana or our neighboring states, we encourage you to reach out to The Fertility Institute with your questions. Our team is here to help you on your fertility journey!

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Originally posted on July 11, 2014.