It's well known that women are advised to take prenatal vitamins during pregnancy to support fetal health and development. But what about men? Can male partners support a healthy pregnancy by taking supplements? Do male prenatal vitamins even exist? Here, we cover everything you need to know about prenatal vitamins for men.
- Male prenatal vitamins or fertility supplements can increase your chances of conceiving and improve health outcomes for your baby.
- Even though men should take prenatal vitamins, they have different nutritional needs than women — so couples can’t share the same supplements.
- There are key ingredients men should look for in prenatal or fertility vitamins, including antioxidants, zinc, and folate.
- Keep up with a nutrient-rich diet, regular exercise, and quality sleep to improve sperm health, and use male prenatal vitamins to help fill in the gaps.
What are prenatal vitamins?
Before we dive into whether men should take prenatal vitamins, let's cover what prenatal vitamins actually are and why they're important.
When a person becomes pregnant, their nutritional needs increase. Familiar with the old saying "eating for two"? That rings true, as the fetus needs certain nutrients to develop. While it's technically possible for someone to get all the nutrients needed for proper fetal development through diet and lifestyle alone, it's difficult to accomplish. This is where prenatal vitamins come in.
Prenatal vitamins are unlike traditional multivitamins because they're specially formulated to meet the growing nutritional needs someone experiences during pregnancy. For example, pregnant women typically need greater quantities of iron, folate, and calcium in their diet to support fetal development.
There's no wrong time to begin taking prenatal vitamins, but the ideal start date is three months before pregnancy. In the past, doctors advised patients to take prenatal vitamins as soon as they found out they were pregnant. Now, it's generally recommended to start taking prenatal vitamins when you begin trying to conceive, to prepare your body for pregnancy.
Research shows that taking prenatal vitamins earlier can reduce the risk of neural and spinal birth defects. Prenatal vitamins may even improve female fertility. Studies show that taking nutritional supplements such as vitamins C, E, and A, folate, and zinc — all found in most prenatals — before pregnancy is associated with improved fertilization rate and shorter time to pregnancy. Also, because some people can be weeks along in their pregnancy before even realizing it, it's a good idea to begin taking prenatal vitamins as soon as you begin trying.
Should a man take prenatal vitamins?
So, if women are advised to take prenatal vitamins before they are pregnant to support fetal health and development, should their male partner also consider their health and nutrition? After all, 50% of a child's genetic makeup comes from their biological father.
The quick answer is yes, but the ingredients are different. The point of male prenatals is to support male fertility and healthy sperm, not to support a growing fetus. There are male fertility vitamins formulated with ingredients specific to sperm production, sexual function, and a healthy hormone profile.
Poor sperm health is associated with increased time to pregnancy, increased risk of infertility, and higher chances that you’ll have to use advanced reproductive technology such as IVF to achieve a pregnancy. Sperm quality issues, such as sperm DNA fragmentation, could also have a negative impact on the health of your future child. For example, a strong correlation has been found between the development of retinoblastoma, childhood eye cancer, and DNA damage in paternal sperm.
While it's critical for the partner carrying the pregnancy to take prenatal vitamins during the course of pregnancy, it's key for the male partner to take nutritional supplements before conception. Spermatogenesis (sperm production) takes around 74 days, so it could be 2–3 months before a vitamin you’ve added had a significant impact on your sperm health.
What to look for in male prenatal vitamins
If you're thinking of taking male fertility supplements, there are a few key ingredients you should be looking for.
Many of the ingredients found in male prenatals or fertility supplements are antioxidants. Antioxidants are compounds that protect our body’s cells from the negative impact of free radicals or “reactive oxygen species” (ROS).
ROS are created as a result of our body’s daily processes and can be increased during times of illness, toxin exposure, or poor lifestyle. High levels of ROS — or ROS that go unchecked by antioxidants — can damage cells. This is a phenomenon known as “oxidative stress.”
Oxidative stress has a detrimental impact on sperm health, especially sperm genetic health. Oxidative stress can cause sperm DNA fragmentation and, consequently, infertility.
Lowering oxidative stress can be accomplished by lowering the levels of ROS in the body — perhaps by quitting smoking or reducing exposure to toxins — or by increasing antioxidant intake through diet and supplementation. A good strategy to improve fertility includes both.
Coenzyme Q10 plays a key role in the body: it's essential for our metabolism to function and also acts as a strong antioxidant. Studies also show that fertilization rates increase after several weeks of supplementation with CoQ10. Additionally, when researchers tested the effects of CoQ10 supplementation on infertile men, they found a significant increase in sperm motility and fertilization rates.
If you want to support your fertility, Legacy's CoQ10 supplement comes packed with 100mg of high-absorption CoQ10 antioxidants per softgel, along with healthy plant-derived fats. Learn more about our CoQ10 male fertility supplement here.
Folate or folic acid
Folate has been shown to play a critical role in reproductive health; it's vital to the creation, maturation, and development of sperm. By boosting your folate levels, you may see an increase in sperm concentration — so be on the lookout for folate or folic acid in your male prenatal vitamins.
Folate vs. folic acid vs. 5-MTHF
Although folate and folic acid are often used interchangeably, they are absorbed by the body differently. Folate is the naturally occurring form of vitamin B9. When you take in folate (such as when you eat spinach), your digestive system converts folate into an active form of vitamin B9, known as 5-MTHF.
Folic acid, on the other hand, is a synthetic form of vitamin B9 that doesn't convert as quickly into 5-MTHF because it must go through the liver. Therefore, you may end up with some unmetabolized folic acid in your body.
More recently, some vitamins use 5-MTHF or L-methylfolate, the active form of folate. This is the best form, as it’s most bioavailable (meaning you can absorb the highest percentage of the vitamin) and has been shown to increase blood folate levels more efficiently than folic acid.
However, folic acid is often still the choice vitamin in many fortified foods and vitamins because it is more heat-stable than folate. And it has been shown to be effective in preventing neural tube defects and improving sperm health, regardless of the exact compound you take.
As a powerful antioxidant, vitamin C can counteract oxidative stress and help protect sperm from damage. In one study, it was found that after two months of vitamin C supplementation, sperm count doubled, motility increased by 90%, and sperm morphology increased by 50%.
Vitamin E is another important antioxidant that helps protect sperm from free radical damage. This vitamin is typically combined with other supplements for impactful results. Studies have shown that vitamin E improves sperm motility, morphology, and genetic health when combined with other antioxidants like selenium or CoQ10.
Vitamin D — which is actually a hormone — is critical for increasing our body's absorption of important nutrients like calcium, magnesium, and phosphate, and may play a role in male fertility. The interesting thing about vitamin D is that it's not found in many foods. The best way to get vitamin D is from sun exposure, but getting enough through sun exposure alone isn't possible for many people.
Although studies haven’t yet pinpointed exactly why low vitamin D levels are associated with lower semen parameters, we do know that increased consumption of vitamin D through supplementation can lead to improved sperm quality.
L-carnitine is a compound that supports metabolism in the body. Supplementation with L-carnitine has been shown to improve sperm quality and increase fertilization rates. Other studies show that high concentrations of L-carnitine in the semen can even help protect sperm during cryopreservation.
D-aspartic acid (D-AA)
D-AA is an amino acid that's concentrated in some areas of the body, including the testicles and sperm cells. D-AA helps regulate testosterone release, suggesting that it may have powerful effects on male fertility. One study showed an increase in sperm concentration and motility after 90 days of D-AA supplementation, leading to an improvement in the rate of pregnancies in their partners.
Selenium, another antioxidant, has shown benefits to male fertility both when taken alone or when taken in combination with other nutrients. In one study, infertile men were prescribed 50 micrograms of selenium once a day for three months. As a result, testosterone levels and sperm count, motility, vitality, and morphology increased. In studies where infertile men took selenium along with vitamin E, A, or C, overall sperm quality increased.
Studies suggest that adding lycopene to your diet may improve sperm count, viability, quality, and genetic health, as well as pregnancy rates. As a powerful antioxidant, it can help protect your body from oxidative stress and sperm DNA damage while increasing sperm parameters. One study showed a significant increase in sperm concentration in men with oligozoospermia (low sperm count) when supplemented daily with 25mg of lycopene over a 12-week period.
Zinc, a nutrient involved in protein and DNA synthesis, is a critical player in male fertility. Studies show that infertile men have lower zinc concentration in their seminal plasma compared with healthy controls. And according to multiple studies, zinc supplementation has been associated with an increase in semen volume, sperm motility, and normal sperm morphology.
When to take male prenatal vitamins
You should start taking male fertility supplements as soon as you begin thinking of trying to start a family. It takes 2–3 months for new sperm to be produced, so you'll need to be taking supplements for at least that amount of time before you’ll see the results in your fertility.
What else can I do to increase my chances of conceiving?
If you're thinking of starting a family, a good first step is getting a sperm analysis. That way, you know the state of your sperm health, and can get insight into which parameters may need improvement. For example, you may have high sperm concentration but low motility. In that case, you should focus on lifestyle changes and supplements that are shown to specifically improve motility.
You can get a sperm analysis and a fertility clinician's guidance without ever leaving home with Legacy's at-home sperm analysis kit.
To increase your chances of conceiving, you might also consider other healthy lifestyle changes, such as improving your diet and exercise, reducing alcohol consumption, and quitting cigarettes or tobacco. For research-backed, actionable tips, read our sperm improvement guide.