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Keep Those Swimmers Happy: Folate May Help Encourage Healthy Male Sperm

Maybe Popeye only had half of the picture.

New research from the University of California Berkeley, indicates that eating folate-rich foods, like spinach and other dark, leafy vegetables, might decrease the risk of birth defects not just in women, but in men as well.

Recent studies have suggested that paternal diet affects sperm count and motility, which is important for conception, but this new study takes it further to say that male diet may be important for healthy offspring as well, said study coordinator Suzanne Young, a researcher at UC Berkeleys School of Public Health. Our study is the first to look at the effects of diet on chromosomal abnormalities in sperm. These abnormalities would cause either miscarriages or children with genetic syndromes if the sperm fertilized an egg. 

The researchers are careful to point out that there is only a link between increased folate consumption among males and decreased birth defects in their female partners, not a causal relationship.

Whats the difference?

Links only demonstrate that something about the research subjects diet (which in this case contained higher folate levels) had an impact on decreased birth defects. More controlled studies are necessary to isolate whether folate, or other factors, may have contributed to the improvements in sperm health. Furthermore, to determine with certainty whether folate operates in a similar way in the broader population, researchers are recommending that the study be conducted with a larger group.

That said, ongoing research suggests that a diverse diet, which includes a wide-range of vegetables (including spinach) has positive health benefits. Good sources of folate include spinach, leafy vegetables, asparagus, broccoli, brussels sprouts, kidney beans, and orange juice.