Nurture Yourself

Are Prenatal Vitamins Safe for Men? Experts Explain How to Support the Health of a Father-To-Be

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When it comes to fertility, there’s an obvious and understandable focus on a woman’s health — but what can men do to increase the odds of a successful pregnancy? What about taking prenatal vitamins? Are supplements formulated for mothers-to-be even safe for men?

Common sense dictates that good nutrition is important to reproductive health. But to dig into the specifics, we consulted two experts on the matter. Let’s break it down.

A Healthy Lifestyle is the Building Block

For starters, both of the doctors we consulted stressed the importance of general health, for both the father- and the mother-to-be.

“To conceive successfully, it’s important to optimize your own health as much as possible,” says Dr. Colin Zhu, DO. A board-certified physician in family medicine and also a chef, Zhu also founded The Chef Doc, a lifestyle- and nutrition-focused brand.

Important markers on the health journey for prospective parents include “maintaining a healthy weight by consuming a fiber-rich diet; striving for 150-300 minutes of moderately intense exercise per week; drinking closer to 120 ounces of water a day [for men], as per the Mayo Clinic; and sleeping between seven to nine hours a night, as per the American Sleep Association,” he says.

Dr. Amos Grunebaum concurs. When trying to conceive, “It’s really important that both parties are equally healthy. Men often don’t want to admit that it can be their problem when she cannot get pregnant,” says the obstetrician, who is also a professor at the Zucker School of Medicine in New York and founder of babyMed, a site designed to facilitate healthy pregnancies.

Both the quality and the quantity of a man’s sperm are key to conception, Grunebaum points out. Therefore, his initial advice to men who are trying to become fathers: “No smoking, no alcohol, no being overweight. Eat healthy food, manage stress.” All of these factors, he says, can affect a man’s sperm.

A Man’s Diet Affects His Sperm Health

One study, Zhu notes, “found a correlation with improved semen parameters with improved omega-3 fatty acid intake, whether by supplementation or from foods rich in omega-3s.” On the flip side, a poor diet has the opposite effect: “Poor semen quality was observed with higher intakes of processed meats and dairy, and improved semen quality with higher intakes of fruits and vegetables. This was confirmed in another study, when the intake is more than five servings of fruits and vegetables a day.”

It’s important to understand that men’s reproductive health cannot be improved overnight, Grunebaum points out: “Sperm can take nine to 10 weeks to be produced. Anything that happens over that period can affect sperm quality and count. So it’s not just doing something the night before or the week before.”

A good diet is key, Grunebaum stresses. His recommendation? “The best diet is the Mediterranean diet: a lot of fish, low-fat meat or no meat, and a lot of vegetables.”

Do Supplements Help with Conception?

Both experts agree that improved nutrition makes a difference—and supplements can help.

“Take a daily multivitamin and an antioxidant supplement,” says Grunebaum. “Studies have clearly shown that men can improve their fertility by adding a daily supplement. That should include selenium, co-enzyme Q10, L-carnitine, and folic acid. Those are specific male fertility supplements that can improve his sperm count. Again, it takes about three months to achieve that.”

Grunebaum shared a meta-analysis of several smaller studies to support this recommendation. He also recommended a supplement he designed: Fertilaid for Men, which combines the recommended nutrients. (Fertilaid also makes a formula for women.)

Zhu suggests a slightly different combination for men trying to conceive a baby. “My general recommendations would be having a high-quality vitamin B12 and omega-3 supplementation from a plant-based source, and vitamin D3,” he says.

Regarding co-enzyme Q10, Zhu notes that your body is able to produce it on its own, under the right circumstances. Eating leafy greens—such as spinach, swiss chard and kale—and getting enough sunlight causes “a chemical reaction where we are able to naturally reactivate levels of CoQ10. So, it’s not necessary to supplement if you are able to eat more chlorophyll-rich diets, like a whole foods plant-based diet.”

Not sure what a chlorophyll-rich diet looks like? In that case, it can help to work with a registered dietitian or certified nutrition coach for guidance.

RELATED: Diets Decoded: Plant-Based Diet

Are Women’s Prenatal Vitamins Safe for Men?

Both experts agree there’s no clear danger for men taking a prenatal vitamin, even if it’s formulated for women — but they also don’t recommend it. “There’s no reason to do that, because there are specific supplements for men that will help their sperm,” says Grunebaum. “In general, a simple prenatal women’s vitamin is not unsafe for men, but it does not usually have the optimal amount of vitamins and supplements for men.”

And of course, as Zhu points out: “If you have specific questions about infertility, contact your urologist, OB-GYN, and/or fertility specialist.”

(Image: Shutterstock)

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