Father's Age, Lifestyle May Affect Future Children's Health

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A new review published on Sunday has suggested that a father's age, alcohol use and environmental factors can all contribute to their health of their offspring and an increased risk of birth defects.

Researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center reviewed existing studies on humans and animals which looked at how a father's health and lifestyle can affect his genetic programming, which in turn can affect the future health of his child, including:

  • Advanced age of a father is linked with increased rates of schizophrenia, autism, and birth defects in his offspring.
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  • A limited diet during a father's pre-teenage years can reduce the risk of cardiovascular death in his children and grandchildren.

  • Obesity in fathers is linked to enlarged fat cells, changes in metabolic regulation, diabetes, obesity and development of brain cancer.
  • Psychosocial stress on the father is linked to defective behavioral traits in his children.
  • The father's alcohol use can lead to a lower birth weight as well as a marked reduction in overall brain size and impaired cognitive function.

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The review adds to the growing body of research which suggests that it is not only mothers who contribute to the health of their child but fathers as well.

Two studies published at the beginning of the year in the journal Science which looked at the effects of different diets of male mice on their offspring found that a father's diet can influence health and weight of offspring in mice. A 2014 study showed similar results, with the offspring of obese male mice showing a genetic predisposition for obesity even if their mothers were slim and healthy. In the first such study to be conducted on humans and one that was cited by the review, researchers found a link between obesity levels in fathers and an increased risk in their children developing health-related cancers.

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And a 2013 study by McGill University found that when male mice consumed a diet low in vitamin B9, also known as folate, their offspring had a 30 per cent higher chance of birth defects.

The team behind this new review believe that these birth defects result from epigenetic alterations, in which genes are switched on and off, and can potentially affect not only children but also grandchildren and other future generations.

For example, a baby can be diagnosed with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), even though the mother has never consumed alcohol, explained senior investigator Joanna Kitlinska.

The team now believes that research needs to be organized so lifestyle recommendations can be made to future parents.

The study was published online in the American Journal of Stem Cells.

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