Men who eat a diet rich in green vegetables, fruit and lentils have a higher chance of fathering a healthy child, scientists said today. In the first study to investigate the effects of diet on sperm quality, American scientists found that high levels of vitamin B reduced the number of abnormalities that can lead to children being born with conditions such as Down's syndrome. It may lead to recommendations for men as well as women to take folic acid before trying to conceive. Women are encouraged to take supplements of vitamin B, which occurs naturally as folate in leafy green vegetables, pulses and some fruits, and synthetically as folic acid, in order to protect the unborn foetus from certain birth defects.

If the findings of the study, which was carried out by a team from University of California, in Berkeley, are confirmed scientists may recommend men take folic acid for at least three months before trying to conceive. But study authors said they cannot be sure that it is the high intake of folate that leads directly to fewer sperm abnormalities and it may be that the men were generally healthier. The study, based on 89 healthy men is published in the journal, Human Reproduction.

by Rebecca Smith