Men Should Take Folic Acid Prior to Conception to Prevent Birth Defects

By: Byron J. Richards, Board Certified Clinical Nutritionist
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A new animal study shows that when fathers lack folic acid prior to conception, there is a 30% increased risk for birth defects. This is the first study to analyze the sperm epigenome and the consequences a lack of folic acid has on the epigenome that is passed along to the offspring. This information is highly important to having healthy children.

The advice for women to take folic acid before and during pregnancy is now well established. This is because folic acid influences how genes express themselves (epigenetics) through a process called methylation. The impact of healthy methylation on DNA is to turn on or off the light switches in the proper way to support healthy cell replication, and thus, a lack of birth defects. Without folic acid methylation issues can impact DNA settings in a way that causes faulty expression of genes with serious health ramifications.

Even when some people take folic acid, a percentage of them cannot activate the folic acid due to their own gene weaknesses. This leaves their offspring open to the same risk as if they were not taking it. The solution is to use a form of folic acid that is already in the biologically active form (5-Methyltetrahydrofolic acid), which is by far the most expensive ingredient in a multiple vitamin or prenatal formula (whereas plain folic acid is cheap and may not work). This type of folic acid is the only type of folic acid that invariably enhances methylation processes that lead to DNA stability.

“We were very surprised to see that there was an almost 30 percent increase in birth defects in the litters sired by fathers whose levels of folates were insufficient,” said Dr. Romain Lambrot, of McGill’s Dept. of Animal Science, one of the researchers who worked on the study. “We saw some pretty severe skeletal abnormalities that included both cranio-facial and spinal deformities.”

This study demonstrates that the sperm epigenome is passed to the offspring with a significant impact on cell division in the child. Men must be adequate in folic acid before conception.

I have previously written about this topic in the context of autism risk in my article, Nutrients May Reduce the Risk of Having a Child with Autism.

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