You are what your father eats
Mothers get all the attention. But a study led by McGill researcher Sarah Kimmins suggests that the father’s diet before conception may play an equally important role in the health of their offspring. It also raises concerns about the long-term effects of current Western diets and of food insecurity. The research focused on vitamin B9, also called folate, which is found in a range of green leafy vegetables, cereals, fruit and meats. It is well known that in order to prevent miscarriages and birth defects mothers need to get adequate amounts of folate in their diet. But the way that a father’s diet can influence the health and development of their offspring has received almost no attention. Now research from the Kimmins group shows for the first time that the father’s folate levels may be just as important to the development and health of their offspring as are those of the mother. Indeed, the study suggests that fathers should pay as much attention to their lifestyle and diet before they set out to conceive a child as mothers do.
Review finds fathers’ age, lifestyle associated with birth defects
A growing body of research is revealing associations between birth defects and a father’s age, alcohol use and environmental factors, say researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center. They say these defects result from epigenetic alterations that can potentially affect multiple generations. The study, published in the American Journal of Stem Cells, suggest both parents contribute to the health status of their offspring – a common sense conclusion which science is only now beginning to demonstrate, says the study’s senior investigator, Joanna Kitlinska, PhD, an associate professor in biochemistry, and molecular and cellular biology.
“We know the nutritional, hormonal and psychological environment provided by the mother permanently alters organ structure, cellular response and gene expression in her offspring,” she says.
“But our study shows the same thing to be true with fathers—his lifestyle, and how old he is, can be reflected in molecules that control gene function,” she says. “In this way, a father can affect not only his immediate offspring, but future generations as well.”
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