Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Dad's deficient diet could hurt baby

Birth defects found in mice, study shows

  • Print

TORONTO -- It's well-known what a mother eats before and during pregnancy can affect fetal development, but research now suggests a father's diet prior to conception may also play a critical role in a newborn's health.

Women are advised to get sufficient amounts of vitamin B9, or folate -- found in green leafy vegetables, cereals, fruit and meats -- to prevent miscarriages or birth defects in their babies.

But the way a father's diet can influence the health and development of offspring has received little attention, said Sarah Kimmins, a specialist in reproductive biology at McGill University who led a study looking at the effects of paternal folate levels.

"It can't all be on the mother," Kimmins said Tuesday from Montreal. "Our study and others are now showing that the father can be a route for the transmission of birth defects and can influence offspring health."

"Guys need to pay attention to what they're doing in terms of lifestyle choices prior to having a baby, just like the woman does."

'Guys need to pay attention to what they're doing in terms of lifestyle choices prior to having a baby, just like the woman does'

In a study of mice published in the journal Nature Communications, researchers found a low-folate diet in males was linked to an increased rate of birth defects among their pups, compared to the rate among pups whose fathers were fed a folate-sufficient diet.

"When we looked at the offspring, when we looked at the fetuses, we were really quite shocked that we saw the birth defects," Kimmins said Tuesday from Montreal.

"We had increased changes in the pregnancy rate, and we expected that we would affect fertility, but we didn't expect that we would have these paternal-driven birth defects in response to a folate-deficient diet."

The birth anomalies, which occurred across the litters sired by folate-deficient mice, included spinal malformations, cranio-facial defects such as a shortened jaw, underdeveloped digits and club feet.

"Those were the types of things we saw as a consequence of that diet," Kimmins said. "So they're quite striking birth defects."

In humans, about three per cent of children are born with a birth defect of some kind, and the cause is known for only about half of them, she said.

In the mouse litters born to fathers with inadequate dietary folate, about four per cent of the pups had a birth anomaly.

"We were very surprised to see that there was an almost 30 per cent increase in birth defects in the litters sired by fathers whose levels of folates were insufficient," compared with those from sires fed folate-rich diets, said co-author Romain Lambrot, a post-doctoral fellow in McGill's department of animal science.

"We saw some pretty severe skeletal abnormalities."

While folic acid is added to a variety of foods, men who eat high-fat, fast-food diets or who are overweight or obese may not be able to efficiently metabolize B9, said Kimmins, noting that a lack of folate can affect their sperm.

"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."

The researchers say a man's sperm carries a memory of his environment and possibly even his diet and other lifestyle choices through the epigenome, a network of chemical compounds surrounding DNA.

The epigenome, which is affected by environmental cues, is like a switch that influences how genes are turned on or off and how genetic information is passed from parents to children.

"Look at things in your life like smoking, drinking, what you're eating and be aware that if you're living a bad lifestyle, you might transmit some of that information to your offspring," said Kimmins.

 

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 11, 2013 C12

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Weekend springtime weather with Doug Speirs - Apr 19

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Marc Gallant / Winnipeg Free Press. Local- WINTER FILE. Snowboarder at Stony Mountain Ski Hill. November 14, 2006.
  • JOE.BRYKSA@FREEPRESS.MB.CA Local-(Standup photo)- Humming Around- A female ruby -throated hummingbird fly's through the bee bomb  flowers Friday at the Assiniboine Park English Garden- Nectar from flowers are their main source of food. Hummingbirds wings can beat as fast as 75x times second. Better get a glimpse of them soon the birds fly far south for the winter - from Mexico to South America- JOE BRYKSA/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS- Sept 10, 2009

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Now that the snow is mostly gone, what are your plans?

View Results

Ads by Google