There are many vitamins and minerals that are important for conception – and folate is definitely one of them! But what are the best sources of folate, is folic acid a sufficient supplement, and is it just as important for men as it is for women? We answer all these questions in this blog.
What is folate?
Folate is a B-Vitamin that is naturally present in many of the foods we eat on a regular basis. Your body needs folate to make DNA and for your cells to divide – so it makes sense that it is a hot topic amongst people who are trying to conceive!
There are many foods that are rich in folate (more on that later) but you often find that folic acid – a synthetic form of folate – is found in many fortified foods, like breakfast cereals and bread.
Why is folate important for pregnancy?
One of the main functions of folate is to help the body produce healthy new cells – which is why it is so important before and during pregnancy. Folate has been shown to help reduce the risk of Neural Tube Defects (NTDs) – like Spina Bifida and Anencephaly. These are defects that occur in the first month of pregnancy, a crucial time when a baby’s spinal cord is being formed and are conditions that there is sadly no cure for. That’s why prevention is so important – and research has shown that having a healthy level of folate in your body helps to reduce the risk.
If you are trying to conceive, The NHS recommends women take daily folic acid supplements of 400 micrograms before pregnancy and through the first trimester. It is safe to take these supplements whether you’re pregnant or not, so it’s a good idea to start taking them at least 3 months before conception.
Whilst 400mcg is the generally recommended amount, there may be some cases when a doctor would advise a woman to take a higher dosage – particularly if she had a previous baby with Neural Tube Defect.
There are also other benefits of folate for female fertility. Research has found that folate can help with progesterone production, which can help support healthy ovulation and regulate the menstrual cycle, which can help natural conception.
Why folate is important for male fertility too
With so much of the conversation around folate relating to pregnancy, you might think that it’s not that important for men – but that’s not the case. The support for cell division and DNA synthesis that comes from folate is not only helpful for a developing baby – but for sperm production too.
Folate levels analyzed in semen have been associated with sperm count. One study even found that folate deficiency was associated with an increased risk of DNA damage in sperm cells. There is another study that tracked male participants over a period of 26 weeks, found that a combined supplementation of folic acid and zinc increased total sperm count in fertile and subfertile men by around 74%!
Whilst the above studies indicate that there are definitely benefits of folate supplementation for male fertility, there are some conflicting studies that imply it might not be as effective as we think. A large double-blind study that was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2020 looked at couples who were due to have assisted fertility treatments. They found no evidence of higher live birth rates among men who took zinc/folic acid supplements.
The truth is that whilst research into the impact of folate on pregnancy and women is pretty robust, we still need to examine it further when it comes to men. But even if folate didn’t have a huge positive correlation to sperm health, there are still a host of benefits for your overall health, so it’s important to get enough of it in your diet.
Natural sources of folate
As always, when looking to increase your folate intake, it’s best to first try to adapt your diet. Many green vegetables are great sources of folate, including:
But you can also find it in other fruits, vegetables and foods like:
- Edamame Beans
If you eat your recommended five a day and try to ‘eat the rainbow’ (having as many different coloured vegetables on your plate as possible!) you should be getting a good amount of folate in your diet – as well as a bunch of other sperm health superfoods benefits. However, if you need an extra boost you can also look at supplementation, but there are a few things you need to consider.
Folate vs folic acid supplements
Folic acid has long been a recommended way to supplement your folate intake in your diet – as discussed earlier, it’s even what the NHS suggests for people trying to conceive.
However, it’s important to remember that folic acid is a synthetic form of folate and is not metabolised in the same way.
Folate is a form of Vitamin B9 and the active form of vitamin B9 is a type of folate known as levomefolic acid or 5-methyltetrahydrofolate (5-MTHF). When we consume naturally occurring folate through foods, this folate is converted into 5-MTHF and put to work in our body. However, research has shown that not all folic acid is converted in our digestive system in the same way, and instead ends up being metabolised by our liver and tissues – which can mean the benefits are slower acting and not always as effective.
So does this mean that you should avoid folic acid altogether? Not necessarily. It just means that you should prioritise getting folate from naturally occurring sources (ie food) rather than depending on folic acid to give you everything you need.
With that said, taking a supplementary amount of fertility-focused micronutrients are great for ensuring you’ve covered all bases. That’s where the ExSeed Multivitamin for fertility comes into play, containing a range of ingredients that have been proven to improve sperm count, concentration, and motility, while protecting against oxidative stress. This specially formulated multivitamin contains not only folate but also other essential nutrients such as Zinc, Selenium, Vitamins E and B12, and L-Carnitine, which are all important for reproductive health. The unique blend of ingredients is designed by fertility specialists, ensuring that it provides the right balance of nutrients to support healthy reproductive function and increase the chances of conception. Click here to learn more.