The Science Behind Folate: Understanding its Role in Fertility
Folate and folic acid are terms often used interchangeably, but they are not the same.
Folate is a naturally occurring B-vitamin, while folic acid is a synthetic form of the vitamin. Both are essential for various bodily functions, including supporting fertility in both women and men.
Learn more about the differences between folate and folic acid here.
Folate plays a vital role in fertility, and whilst it is available through our diet (see more on folate-packed foods to fuel your fertility here), the NHS recommends taking a folate supplement during preconception and pregnancy.
Our fertility nutritionist Isabelle is on hand to explain the science behind folate and its vital role in reproductive health.
Folate and Female Fertility
For women, folate is a crucial nutrient that plays a significant role in fertility. Folate is involved in several key processes:
Folate contributes to the formation and maturation of eggs in the ovaries. Therefore, folate may improve egg quality, maturation and implantation. Adequate folate levels can help ensure that eggs are healthy and ready for fertilisation.
Folate is essential for maintaining hormonal balance. It helps regulate the menstrual cycle, ensuring that ovulation occurs regularly. Irregular menstrual cycles can make it more challenging to conceive.
Preventing Neural Tube Defects:
Folate is perhaps best known for its role in preventing neural tube defects in developing foetuses. When women have sufficient folate in their diets before conception and during early pregnancy, it greatly reduces the risk of these serious birth defects.
Reducing the Risk of Miscarriage:
Recent research suggests that men who are deficient in folate may increase the risk of miscarriage in their female partners. Therefore, both partners should consider folate intake.
Folate and Male Fertility
While folate is often associated with female fertility, it is equally important for men. Here's how folate influences male reproductive health:
Sperm Production and Quality:
Folate plays a role in sperm production and quality. Folate can improve quality of sperm while lowering risk of sperm abnormalities. It supports DNA synthesis, which is vital for healthy sperm formation.
Reducing DNA Damage:
Folate acts as an antioxidant, protecting sperm from oxidative damage. This protection is essential for maintaining sperm integrity and increasing the chances of successful fertilisation. Low folate in seminal plasma is associated with increased sperm DNA damage. Further, high levels of sperm DNA fragmentation have been shown to double likelihood of miscarriage.
Risk of Miscarriage:
Studies have shown that low folate levels in men may be associated with a higher risk of miscarriage in their female partners. There is evidence of association between paternal folate status and sperm quality, fertility, congenital malformations and placental weight. Therefore, folate is important for both partners when trying to conceive.
Folate, a natural B-vitamin, plays a crucial role in fertility for both women and men. It supports various aspects of reproductive health, from egg development and hormonal balance in women to sperm production and DNA protection in men. Understanding the science behind folate underscores its significance in the journey to parenthood. To ensure optimal fertility, consider a diet rich in folate-rich foods and consult with a healthcare professional for appropriate supplementation.
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