“You are what your father eats,” according to new study.

father and son
CC BY 2.0 John Lemieux

A study from McGill University has discovered that a father’s diet prior to conception is just as important as the mother’s when it comes to influencing their child’s health. The study examines vitamin B9, also known as folate, which comes from green leafy vegetables, meats, fruits, and cereals, and is known to reduce the likelihood of miscarriage and birth defects. Pregnant mothers must have good folate levels, but this study has shown that a father’s folate level has a big effect on a child’s health, too. Fathers should make sure they have a healthy, well-balanced lifestyle before trying to conceive a child.

Research was conducted using mice. One group had fathers with insufficient folate in their diets, and the other group had sufficient levels of folate. The offspring whose fathers had insufficient folate had an increased number of birth defects compared to the group with sufficient paternal folate. Dr. Romain Lambrot explained that there was an almost 30 percent increase in birth defects when the fathers had insufficient folate in their diet: “We were very surprised… We saw some pretty severe skeletal abnormalities that included both cranio-facial and spinal deformities.”

The conclusion is that sperm are able to carry a memory of the father’s environment, including his diet and lifestyle choices. This means that if fathers eat high fat, fast food diets or are obese, or if they live in an area of the world with food insecurity where it’s hard to get enough folate in their diets, or if they drink excessively or smoke, all of that information gets passed on to their offspring. Lead researcher, Sarah Kimmins, says:

“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.”

Her next step will be to collaborate with fertility clinics in hopes of better understanding the links between paternal diet, obesity, and the health of offspring.

I think this is a wonderful and fascinating discovery. Shifting the balance of responsibility for prenatal health so that it’s shared equally between a mother and father will be a big help for women, who already bear the full burden of pregnancy and delivery. Encouraging men to establish healthy lifestyle habits also sets a good example for children once they’re older. Such a discovery is beneficial to the whole family.

Tags: Babies | Health

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