Birth defects – How men can help

Women are encouraged in pregnancy to have a reasonably high intake of folic acid as it is known to help prevent neural tube birth defects, but now an important groundbreaking study shows that a father’s intake of the nutrient might also be just as important.

Men with a high intake of folic acid are significantly less likely to produce sperm with the chromosomal abnormalities that can lead to birth defects.

Researchers from the University of California at Berkeley analyzed sperm from 89 healthy, non-smoking men for a condition called aneuploidy, in which a sperm cell carries the wrong number of chromosomes. While in most cases, aneuploidy leads to either a failure to conceive or to miscarriage, sometimes the foetus can be carried to full term where conditions such as Down’s, Klinefelter’s or Turner’s syndrome (sexual chromosome abnormalities) occur.

Men who want to make the best contribution to having a healthy child should start making changes at least 3 months before they want to start a family as it takes that time to produce sperm. Although you can take folic acid supplements, a good place to start would be to make sure you are a non-smoker, and include plenty of folic acid rich foods such as liver, green leafy vegetables, broccoli, peas and brussel sprouts.