For how long have women been taking “prenatal” vitamins? Maybe a decade? Nope. A link between vitamin deficiency and pregnancy outcomes was postulated 70 years ago! And studies showing fewer neural tube defects in babies following maternal folic acid supplementation are now almost 40 years old. Indeed, prenatal vitamins have become a clutch player in the world of preventative medicine.
But what about prenatal vitamins for men? You know, equal rights and all that. Funny you should ask, because that’s precisely what I am speaking about at the 2nd Annual Integrative Fertility Symposium in Vancouver. Have pregnancy outcomes been shown to improve if men take a prenatal (actually, “preconception,” as men don’t typically gestate babies) supplement?
Take Your Vitamins, Son
In fact, it looks like there are benefits to pregnancies when dads take their vitamins while trying to become dads. And no, it’s not as simple as kids walking sooner or becoming instantly attracted to red fire trucks. It’s much more basic than that.
There have now been two meta-analyses published on this topic, one examining 34 studies (n=2876 couples) and a second evaluating 48 studies (n=4179 couples). And lo and behold, they reached the same conclusions: When men take preconception vitamins, their partners going through IVF are 3-4 fold more likely to get pregnant and 4 fold more likely to have live births. In one of the studies, sperm counts and motilities also improved with vitamins. Admittedly, most of the studies looked at in the formal reviews weren’t the best ones ever performed. Nevertheless, despite this caveat, the findings are about as fundamental to life as one could imagine.
In fact, I was so moved by these studies when they first came out that I spearheaded the development of a male preconception pill called Essential Beginnings XY. And soon after the second meta-analysis rolled out, our own government (the NIH) began a nationwide randomized trial to prove these claims for good. After all, this could be a real sea change in how we think about men and vitamins.
So how do men’s vitamins do all the good that they appear to do? In a word, they are antioxidants and a good-sized chunk of human infertility is thought to be due to oxidants and “oxidative stress.” From a sperm’s point of view, this translates into fragmented or broken DNA, and possibly changes to the epigenetic profile of DNA. Messing up sperm DNA in this way makes them far less attractive to eggs as that lovely genetic dance called meiosis begins after fertilization and during embryo development. In essence, the madness that oxidants bring to bear on sperm may be nipped in the bud by vitamins, allowing proper development.
One final thought. Before we go off and try to change what our life partners put in their mouths every day, recall the words of Robert Byrne: “Anybody who believes that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach flunked geography.”