Prenatal Vitamins for Men: Are They Needed?
It’s pretty standard for women to take a prenatal, and for good reason. Nutrient needs are higher before, during, and after pregnancy, and the health of you and your baby, both now and into the future, depend in large part on the quality of nutrients your body gets during these critical phases.
But we’ve started to get some questions about a man’s role in prenatal prep. And honestly, it makes us pretty happy to know that optimal health for both parts of the pregnancy equation is on your mind. After all, it takes two to tango.
And we get it, with busy lives, depleted soil, and an abundance of environmental toxins in our everyday lives, nutrient deficiencies are common and sperm counts are down. We’ve got reason to wonder if we could be doing something more to support our health. So we wanted to address these questions we’re getting about prenatal vitamins for men. Can men take prenatal vitamins? Should men take prenatal vitamins?
But before we start, we do want to make clear that we know not all pregnancies come from the parents own eggs or sperm or are carried by a heterosexual couple. Same-sex, transgender, non-gender-conforming, sperm donor, and surrogate couples: we see you! Your health and wellbeing matters no matter how you bring a baby into this world, and we are working on content aimed at your unique circumstances, too.
What’s the case for prenatal vitamins for men?
Let’s start by answering the first question: Can men take prenatal vitamins? The answer, in most cases, is yes. A thoughtfully designed (and iron-free) prenatal vitamin like ours, while tailored to the needs of women, offers many benefits for men as well. In fact, many of the nutrients are found in multivitamins marketed to men. Of course, as with any supplement, it’s always wise to check with your health provider before adding in supplements, particularly if you are on certain medications or have other medical conditions.
Now for the second question: Should men take prenatal vitamins? Well, we won’t tell you what to do, but let’s look at some data on why you might want to. Certain vitamins and minerals often found in prenatal vitamins may help support fertility outcomes, pregnancy outcomes, and the long-term health of baby.
As with women’s prenatal and preconception health, while balanced nutrition and overall health is ideal, certain nutrients and antioxidants have been associated with particularly positive outcomes in the areas we discussed above:
- Folate - Folate or Folic Acid is often associated with critical pregnancy outcomes in women, but it is similarly beneficial for men. In fact, a 2014 study showed that men who supplemented with Folate in addition to certain antioxidants had a lower frequency of chromosomal defects, including trisomy 21 which can contribute to Downs Syndrome. However, note that as with women's preconception, there is no single nutrient like Folic Acid for men that alone will boost fertility or pregnancy outcomes. Rather, both male and female fertility and pregnancy outcomes are influenced by a variety of nutrition and lifestyle factors. In addition, as with women, we recommend taking Folate rather than Folic Acid for men, as an estimated one-third of men have a genetic mutation that inhibits the conversion of Folic Acid into a usable form in the body. Since most men aren’t aware of this mutation, it’s wise to choose Folate rather than Folic Acid.
- Antioxidants - It is estimated that oxidative stress and decreased antioxidant capacity in semen contribute to between 30 and 80% of infertility cases. For this reason, the powerful antioxidants Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Zinc, and Coenzyme Q10 can be beneficial for men during the preconception period. In addition, supplementing with Glutathione, known as the “master antioxidant” can also be supportive. Studies have shown that Glutathione is best absorbed when taken sublingually (under the tongue). An alternative to the sublingual form is to take its precursor N-Acetyl Cysteine, which has also shown to be effective in helping the body produce more Glutathione.
- Selenium - The mineral Selenium is an essential element for normal testicular development, sperm development, and sperm motility and function. Because of this, Selenium is often touted as supportive for positive fertility outcomes.
- L-Carnitine - L-Carnitine has been shown to improve sperm quality and motility, particularly in the context of in vitro fertilization (IVF).
- Omega-3s - Research suggests that Omega-3 fatty acids support higher antioxidant activity in semen, higher sperm count, improved sperm motility, and more favorable sperm morphology (size and shape). In addition, one study found that infertile men had a higher ratio of Omega-6 fatty acids to Omega-3 fatty acids, suggesting that supplementation with Omega-3s may be supportive of fertility outcomes.
In short, with busy lives limiting consistently nutritious diets, depleted soil zapping our produce of nutrients, and the ubiquitous nature of environmental toxins and electromagnetic fields (EMFs) in our phones and other technology, an extra nutrient boost through a prenatal vitamin can likely provide support for a man during the preconception phase. Of course, we always recommend you check with your trusted provider before adding new supplements. And if they’re skeptical as to why you might want to, perhaps you share with them some of the sources cited in this article!
Do men need a separate prenatal vitamin?
The nutrients men need during the preconception stage to support sperm quality are generally the same as those for women, and those that support overall health and wellbeing. That said, it’s unlikely that you need to vet a separate prenatal vitamin for men. And in fact, our own plan contains almost all of these nutrients (even an antioxidant boost!) in forms that are optimally-absorbed, so you may just choose to use one plan for the both of you!
Our Prenatal Multi provides a solid foundation of comprehensive vitamins and minerals without added Iron, which many men do not need. Our Omega-3 powder provides an optimal source of essential fatty acids and the Collagen Powder contains beneficial amino acids, boosts protein intake, and can support healthy detox. And while our Pre/Probiotic is highly targeted to a woman's microbiome, men may benefit from a similarly targeted pre/probiotic. We recommend a high quality spore-based option like Megasporebiotic, from our partners at Microbiome Labs.
The addition of a CoQ10 supplement may provide additional fertility support. (But please note, we highly recommend working with a trusted practitioner if you and your partner have concerns about fertility.)
Remember that no supplement can offset a poor diet or an unhealthy lifestyle. So it's important to practice self care in other ways - manage stress, eat well, sleep enough, move your body, limit alcohol, etc.
You might be wondering how soon before trying to conceive should a man start on a prenatal supplement routine. While there is no specific research around optimal timing, there are a few things to keep in mind.
First, it takes approximately three months for sperm to fully mature, so it’s likely that during this time, the overall health of a man can influence the health of his sperm. Put another way, a man who starts taking a prenatal vitamin the week you start to try to conceive is a little late to the game.
Second, lifestyle factors matter, and studies have associated negative outcomes on sperm motility and count from lifestyle factors like obesity and sugar consumption. This suggests that the time leading up to conception influences fertility outcomes, and so for reasons beyond fertility, it’s really never too soon to start incorporating positive changes into you and your partner’s lifestyles. In addition, just as we encourage women to take a fresh look at exposure to environmental toxins in products like personal care and cleaning products, it’s wise for male partners to take part in these practices, too. The Environmental Working Group app can make this process a little more guy-friendly, and you might both consider a preconception couples detox. Be sure to check out our three-part series on how to do this.
Finally, it’s important to remember that the preconception phase is when men can have a direct impact on the health of the baby, but a man’s health and ability to thrive continues to be critical well beyond conception to support his own physical and emotional health, as well as that of mama and baby.
It takes two
The stages of preconception, pregnancy and postpartum are mentally and physically tough on both partners individually, and they can put some strain on your relationship. So it’s always important to remember that you’re in it together. One way to manifest this is by making your collective nourishment a way to connect.
You're in this parenting game together, so consider using a wellness routine as a tangible way of sharing the interest in creating a healthy baby together. In fact, our own cofounder Ryan and her husband make their daily smoothies together with our Prenatal Powder!
Creating a routine together can also help boost accountability around remembering to take your supplements and providing some motivation to eat well and take care of yourselves in a joint effort to set the tone for a healthy family for years to come.
This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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