Thursday, April 24, 2014

Father’s diet before conception may play role in health of offspring: study

TORONTO — It’s well-known that what a woman eats before and during pregnancy can affect fetal development and their newborn’s future health.
Now researchers at McGill University in Montreal suggest dad’s diet may play an equally important role.

Mothers are advised to get adequate amounts of the B vitamin folate to prevent miscarriages or birth defects in their babies.
A study in mice suggests fathers also need sufficient dietary folate before conception to ensure healthy children.
The researchers found a low-folate diet in male mice was linked to more birth defects in their pups, compared to pups whose fathers were fed a higher-folate diet.
Lead researcher Sarah Kimmins says the findings suggest fathers need to pay attention to lifestyle and diet before they set out to conceive a child — as mothers do.
“Despite the fact that folic acid is now added to a variety of foods, fathers who are eating high-fat, fast-food diets or who are obese may not be able to use or metabolize folate in the same way as those with adequate levels of the vitamin,” said Kimmins.
“People who live in the Canadian North or in other parts of the world where there is food insecurity may also be particularly at risk for folate deficiency,” she said. “And we now know that this information will be passed on from the father to the embryo with consequences that may be quite serious.”
Co-author Dr. Romain Lambrot of McGill’s department of animal science said the researchers were surprised to see an almost 30 per cent increase in birth defects in the litters sired by fathers whose levels of folates were insufficient.
“We saw some pretty severe skeletal abnormalities that included both cranio-facial and spinal deformities.”
The researchers say there are regions of the sperm epigenome that are sensitive to life experience and particularly to diet. The epigenome is like a switch, which is affected by environmental cues, and influences how genes are turned on or off and how genetic information is passed from parents to children.
Sperm also carries a memory of the father’s environment and possibly even of his diet and lifestyle choices, they say.
“Our research suggests that fathers need to think about what they put in their mouths, what they smoke and what they drink, and remember they are caretakers of generations to come,” said Kimmins, whose next step will be working with a fertility clinic to assess the links between a man’s diet and the health of their children.

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