December 12, 2013
MONTREALLow paternal intake of folate, and diet before conception, has been shown to have negative effects on the offspring, according to researchers from McGill University.
Folate is found in a range of green leafy vegetables, cereals, fruit and meats. It is 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 there is research showing that a father's folate levels may be just as important to the development and health of their offspring as are those of the mother.
"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," Sarah Kimmins, lead researcher of the study, said. "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. 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 study found that paternal folate deficiency was associated with an increase in birth defects of various kinds in the offspring, compared to the offspring of mice whose fathers were fed a diet with sufficient folate.
"We were very surprised to see that there was an almost 30% increase in birth defects in the litters sired by fathers whose levels of folates were insufficient," said Dr. Romain Lambrot, department of animal science, McGill. "We saw some pretty severe skeletal abnormalities that included both cranio-facial and spinal deformities."
In a recent study, researchers also found that fathers who ate a high-fat diet before conception of offspring, the male offspring have increased body weight after weaning and high body fat in midlife despite eating a low-fat diet.
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