Health risks passed on by fathers

Health risks passed on by fathers

Have you ever wondered how your health might affect that of your children?  What about your grand-children?

If you’re a female you probably have, as it has been accepted for some time that the health of the mother at conception and while carrying their baby influences the health of her child.  But men probably haven’t thought that their health has much effect on their descendants.

Well, researchers are warning of the harmful legacy that paternal obesity can have on future generations.  It follows a vital breakthrough in obesity research, which shows a father’s metabolic health can be passed from generation to generation, affecting not only his children but also his grandchildren.

Scientists at Sydney’s Victor Chang Institute and the Garvan Institute of Medical Research have discovered that male mice who are obese when they conceive are putting their children and grandchildren at significant risk of developing metabolic disease long before they are even born.

According to the researchers “A baby’s health has long been considered the mother’s responsibility as soon as she falls pregnant. But little attention has been paid to how a father’s health might impact his unborn child.  Now, we’ve found powerful evidence, in a mouse model, that dad’s nutrition and metabolic health can influence his sons, and even his grandsons.”

The scientists looked at the effect of dad’s obesity across three generations. At first his offspring appeared to be in good metabolic health. But when they consumed a high-fat, high sugar, junk food diet, all the sons reacted dramatically and within just a few weeks they developed fatty liver disease and pre-diabetic symptoms, such as elevated glucose and insulin in the bloodstream.

The researchers were surprised to find that the grandsons of the obese mice were also predisposed to metabolic disorders, just as their fathers were. Importantly, this predisposition was transmitted to the grandsons even if their fathers ate well and were metabolically well at the time of conception.

If their grandfather was obese the effects of diet on offspring were dramatic, even when they ate poorly for just for a short time.

There are two implications for this:
1. The researchers warn that if your father or grandfather was overweight or obese, you might need to be particularly careful about what you choose to eat as you may well be more susceptible to poor lifestyle choices.

2. If you’re a father-to-be, it’s worth considering whether your own health could impact on your children, and their children in turn.  Getting your own health in order before starting a family could be very important you, for your kids and for their kids.

The scientists say it’s still not entirely clear how this multigenerational programming is happening, but there appear to be clues within the sperm of the mice.  They are now working to understand how changes in RNA molecules in the sperm could transmit the metabolic effects from generation to generation.

For the females reading this, you now have further ammunition to “encourage’ your partner to eat well, manage their weight and stay healthy.  The health of your children isn’t just your responsibility any more.  Tell your partner you won’t have kids with them until they get healthier.  That should be a pretty good incentive to get them off the couch and eating better.

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David Beard
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