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Guess What? It's Dad's Diet That Might Be Affecting Baby

Posted: 12/11/2013 12:30 pm

Women are told to take folic acid in advance of trying to conceive. Folate, which is found in leafy green vegetables, beans, liver, fruit and cereal, is known to prevent miscarriages and the risk of birth defects. Because of its importance in the healthy development of fetuses, women of child bearing age, or who are thinking about trying to conceive are advised to take folic acid supplements.

A couple of years back there were studies that looked into how much folic acid a woman should be taking, and at the time, many woman were advised to up their dose. The more folate in their systems, they were told, the lower the chance of birth defects.

Up until now, women have be the sole target of efforts to ensure enough folate in a diet pre-conception and during gestation. But a new study out of McGill University, published in a journal called Nature Communications, suggests that the campaign needs to be widened to include men. In fact, the study conducted on mice discovered that the folate levels in males had a significant impact on the risk and rate of birth defects in babies born to mothers who had healthy folate levels.

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We have known for a while that drug use can affect both quality and motility of sperm. Beyond that, studies into the importance of the health of sperm and the lifestyle choices men make and their affect on sperm have been few and far between. The McGill study could be a game changer.

"The rate of birth defects was 28 per cent higher per litter of baby mice if their fathers were fed a diet deficient in vitamin B9 or folate compared to litters where both parents were fed a healthy diet," CBC news explained.

Sarah Kimmins, associate professor of reproductive biology at McGill and the senior author of the new study, worked with a team to discover if there was in fact a link between folate levels in men and the risk of birth defects in their babies. The study involved a group female mice who were all fed healthy diets of folate, and two groups of male mice, half of which were fed a healthy diet and the other half who were fed low levels of folate, mimicking what a low folate diet would look like in a human. The findings were telling.

"The researchers examined the sperm of the males fed the folate deficient diet, and sure enough, they found the epigenetic markers were affected for genes linked to development and diseases such as cancer, diabetes, autism and schizophrenia," the CBC explained.

More shocking though, was the increase in risk of birth defects. "Among the 328 mice born to fathers with the folate-deficient diet, 14 had birth defects including muscle and skeletal defects, face and skull abnormalities, small lower jaws and webbed or fused digits. There were only three minor defects among the 285 mice whose fathers had a healthy diet."

Kimmins said the findings are significant enough that it is imperative it be replicated in humans to determine if the link is as significant as it appears in the mice she studied.

Kimmins told CBC that one in 33 children is born with a birth defect with no known cause. It's possible her team's research may have just uncovered at least part of the answer.

At the very least, the study highlights a huge deficiency in the research done on the cause of birth defects. More needs to be done to study the affects of men and their lifestyle and diet on the potential health of their future children.

Written by Leslie Kennedy for BabyPost.com

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  • Bananas

    <strong>TRIMESTER:</strong> 1 <strong>WHY IT WORKS:</strong> "Having bananas during the early weeks of pregnancy may help with nausea that many women experience," says <a href="http://anarallidina.com/" target="_hplink">Anar Allidina</a>, a registered dietitian based in Richmond Hill, Ont. Allidina adds that bananas are a great source of vitamin B6 (helps with morning sickness), fibre, vitamin C and potassium.

  • Spinach

    <strong>TRIMESTER:</strong> 1 <strong>WHY IT WORKS:</strong> These leafy greens are packed with folate. "Adequate folate is required in early pregnancy to prevent neural tube defects (birth defects of the brain and spinal cord)," Allidina says. Spinach also contains fibre, manganese, iron, vitamin A, C and K.

  • Beans

    <strong>TRIMESTER:</strong> 1 <strong>WHY IT WORKS:</strong> Most of us know that beans are an excellent source of protein and fibre, but beans during pregnancy will help you deal with constipation. "Almost 40 per cent of pregnant women will become constipated at some point during pregnancy. Common triggers for constipation include the pressure on your growing uterus, the pregnancy hormone progesterone that slows your digestive track, and iron supplements," Allidina says. Beans also contain a rich source of folate and iron.

  • Red Bell Peppers

    <strong>TRIMESTER:</strong> 1 <strong>WHY IT WORKS:</strong> Vitamin C is responsible for the growth and repair of tissues in your body during pregnancy. "Red bell peppers have twice the amount of vitamin C content compared to green peppers — one large red bell pepper contains 209 mg of vitamin C, which is three times the vitamin C found in an orange," Allidina says. Consuming vitamin C also helps us absorb iron faster, so don't forget to add peppers to your stir fries, salads and sandwiches.

  • Eggs

    <strong>TRIMESTER</strong>: 2 <strong>WHY IT WORKS:</strong> Looking for the good stuff? Check the yolk. "Egg yolk contains choline, an essential nutrient that plays a crucial role in the development of your baby’s brain in addition to boosting your own brain," Allidina says. Expecting moms should get around 450 mg of choline each day. And if you're a vegan or don't like eggs, other sources include beef, milk and soy beans.

  • Avocados

    <strong>TRIMESTER</strong>: 2 <strong>WHY IT WORKS:</strong> This nutrient-dense fruit is bursting with goodness. "Avocados are a great source of fibre, vitamin K, folate, vitamin C, potassium and vitamin B6," she says. Filled with healthy mono-unsaturated fats, these are the "good" fats that can help protect against heart disease. Avocados have been known to help <a href="http://www.whattoexpect.com/pregnancy/eating-well/week-11/big-nutrition-small-packages.aspx">fight morning sickness and help your baby's brain and tissue growth</a>.

  • Greek Yogurt

    <strong>TRIMESTER</strong>: 2 <strong>WHY IT WORKS:</strong> Creamier compared to most yogurts, Greek yogurt actually offers more protein. "Regular non-fat yogurt has six to eight grams of protein per serving, while Greek yogurt has 15 to 18 grams per serving," Allidina says. Greek yogurt is often strained so most the liquid is removed. It's also a good source of calcium — which every woman needs during pregnancy.

  • Papaya

    <strong>TRIMESTER</strong>: 3 <strong>WHY IT WORKS:</strong> This tropical food is full of vitamin C, folate, fibre and potassium. "Papaya is also a natural way to soothe heartburn, which is often experienced during pregnancy, especially in the third trimester," Allidina says. However, pregnant women should only eat ripe papaya, as unripe papayas contain pepsin in their latex (the resin from the papaya tree), which can induce contractions.

  • Nuts

    <strong>TRIMESTER</strong>: 3 <strong>WHY IT WORKS:</strong> As discomfort becomes more common during the third trimester, it's important to eat frequently. "Nuts are a great source of protein and heart healthy fats, and make a great snack since they're easy to store," she says. Nuts like almonds, walnuts, pistachios and cashews all have healthy fats, protein and fibre.

  • Fatty Fish

    <strong>TRIMESTER</strong>: 3 <strong>WHY IT WORKS:</strong> You can eat up to six ounces of albacore (white) tuna a week — eating more than the recommended amount can lead to higher mercury levels that can be harmful to your baby, Allidina says. But including oily or fatty fish in your diet fuels your body with omega 3 fatty acids which helps your heart and strengthens your brain health. Eating up to 12 ounces of fish a week is considered safe during pregnancy.


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