Men can take prenatal vitamins – but with the potentially harmful increases in iron they provide – it’s best to instead go with vitamins that are strictly designed to support fertility.
If you’re planning on becoming preggers or if the fertility goddess has already blessed you, your doctor will likely recommend taking prenatal vitamins.
These dietary supplements help the person carrying the baby experience a healthy pregnancy and reduce the risk of complications like miscarriages, congenital disorders, and preterm labor.
Prenatal vitamins are an essential part of pregnancy care. But what about peeps with sperm? Seeing as around 50 percent of infertility problems stem from both female AND male issues, one might wonder if prenatal vitamins could have a place in men’s fertility management as well.
So, should men take prenatal vitamins, or are there better alternatives? Let’s take a look.
The short answer is “yes”, men can take prenatal vitamins — but it’s not necessarily a great idea.
Prenatal vitamins usually contain a mix of the following:
- folic acid to help prevent congenital disorders
- iron to support placental development
- calcium for the baby’s bones, muscles, and teeth
- docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) to protect against pregnancy-related complications
- zinc to reduce preterm births
- vitamin A to support eye development
Because these vitamins are designed specifically for the pregnant person, they’re high in iron. Men need around 8 milligrams (mg) of iron a day, while pregnant folks need 27 mg. Unnecessarily doubling down on iron can lead to overdose, severe health problems, and even death. Eeek!
But isn’t good health and nutrition important to both parents? Yes, it’s essential as it affects the likelihood of conceiving, contributes to pregnancy outcomes, and maternal and child health following birth.
It’s also essential for the long-term health of the baby. But, because of the balance of vitamins and minerals in prenatal supplements, it’s probably best that men consider a specific formulation for their needs rather than those designed for the person carrying the baby.
Taking prenatal vitamins is a prerequisite for the pregnant person, but experts don’t specifically recommend them for men, and their role isn’t well studied. That said, some vitamins may help boost sperm count and could increase your chances of parenting a child. Especially since men are less likely to seek help for infertility.
Remember, though, that any type of dietary supplement only makes up for nutrient shortfalls. If you’re not deficient in a specific vitamin or mineral, taking a supplement won’t confer any health benefits and could even be harmful. If in doubt, it’s best to chat with a health professional and see if they recommend prenatal vitamins.
Traditional prenatal vitamins lean heavily on nutrients to help grow a healthy baby. In contrast, male prenatal vitamins and nutrients aim to improve fertility by boosting sperm health and motility, aka swimming strength. Although, you may well see some overlap on the ingredients lists.
Here’s a rundown on some of the vitamins you may find in male fertility supplements.
Early research from 2008 suggested that folic acid or folate may help reduce sperm abnormalities. But these effects are debatable as a 2020 study found zero benefits for semen quality or birth rates in men taking supplementary zinc and folic acid.
If you want to add folic acid to your routine and you’re not pregnant or lactating, limit your intake to no more than 400 micrograms (mcg) daily.
Zinc may increase sperm count and function as it helps swimmers fuse and penetrate an egg. Additionally, it may boost testosterone production. So, it makes sense that some research associates low levels with male infertility.
But according to the 2020 study from earlier, zinc supplementation may not prove beneficial.
Recommendations are no more than 40 mg of zinc per day, and exceeding this can cause nasty side effects like the runs.
Your brain, liver, and kidneys make antioxidant l-carnitine from amino acids. And most people make enough for their needs, so there are no dietary recommendations for supplementation.
However, a 2012 review noted that l-carnitine might increase sperm quality and movement. Additionally, a recent 2020 review noted that l-carnitine boosted sperm motility and overall health but didn’t increase the chance of natural conception.
Vitamins C and E
Vitamin C and E are powerful antioxidants that appear in seminal fluid and protect sperm from free radical damage. Vitamins C is water-soluble, while vitamin E is fat-soluble. Men who have issues with fertility may have lower levels of these vitamins in their semen.
A 2011 study suggested that taking vitamin E along with selenium increased sperm motility. Again though, results are mixed, as a 2016 review noted that although oxidative stress significantly affected male infertility, supplementary vitamin E and vitamin C didn’t always help.
The authors concluded that supplementing with a blend of l-carnitine, selenium, and vitamins C and E may improve sperm concentration motility and health but may not boost pregnancy outcomes.
The recommended intake for vitamin E is 15 mg per day. And whatever you do, don’t exceed 180 mg, as this can increase the risk of prostate cancer. For vitamin C, aim for 90 mg a day.
You need selenium for reproduction, DNA production, and to protect you from free radicals and infection.
In a study of 690 infertile men, daily vitamin E and selenium supplements over 100 days improved sperm motility as well as overall sperm size, shape, and appearance in over half of the participants.
Adults need around 55 mcg daily, pregnant peeps need 60 mcg daily, and this jumps to 70 mcg daily if you’re breastfeeding.
CoQ10 is a coenzyme that plays a critical role in DNA replication and repair, and it acts as an antioxidant and neutralizes harmful free radicals.
Supplementing with CoQ10 may help improve semen parameters in men with certain sperm problems. A 2019 research study showed that taking supplemental doses of CoQ10 could significantly increase sperm concentration and improve motility. The changes were greater in the individuals receiving 400 mg daily compared to 200 mg.
A myth about prenatal vitamins
There’s a rumor that prenatal vitamins can promote luscious locks and strong nails, but there’s zero science to back up those claims.
If you’re looking for vitamins to help with hair loss, better choices are vitamin B7 or biotin, vitamin D, vitamin E, and zinc.
If you’re looking for an inexpensive DIY hair growth formula and you’re feeling brave, you can try onion juice. Yes, you’ll smell quite strong, but apparently, it’s effective!
Rather than taking prenatal vitamins designed for peeps carrying the baby, some people with penises may benefit from fertility-boosting supplements. But supplements only help people with abnormal semen parameters or deficiencies. If you’re healthy and have healthy sperm, supplements are unlikely to increase your chances of conception.
If a health pro suggests taking male fertility supplements, then evidence highlights the benefits of antioxidants, including L-carnitine, CoQ10, vitamin E, and vitamin C supplementation. Aim to take the supplements for around 3 to 6 months before your planned conception time, as it takes sperm around 3 months to mature.
Besides taking vitamins, there are some other things that male partners can do to prepare for conception:
- screen for STDs and treat appropriately
- stop smoking
- reduce alcohol intake
- maintain a moderate weight
- learn your family medical history
- take care with toxic substances like fertilizers, bug spray, and animal poop
Prenatal vitamins aim to support the health of developing babies and the person carrying them. These vitamins are part of preconception care and can reduce the risk of pregnancy complications.
Men can also take prenatal vitamins that focus on sperm health. Although there’s some evidence that substances like L-carnitine, CoQ10, vitamin E, and vitamin C may help under some circumstances, it’s generally only the case if you have infertility or sperm problems.
For most peeps with penises, living a healthy lifestyle and eating a nutritious diet should provide everything needed for healthy sperm production.