Fathers and folate: Dad's diet impacts offspring

When it comes to the health of babies, doctors tend to place most of the importance on the mother's diet.

But new research from McGill University suggests that what the father eats may play just as large a role in his offspring's well-being – especially when it comes to folate.

Low folate levels linked to birth defects

In a mouse study, researchers compared the offspring of fathers with insufficient folate levels with offspring of fathers who ate adequate amounts of the vitamin – which is found in a range of leafy green vegetables, fruits, meats and fortified cereals.

In the mice, paternal folate deficiency was linked to increased birth defects, the researchers found.

"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," said researcher Dr. Romain Lambrot, of McGill's Dept. of Animal Science. "We saw some pretty severe skeletal abnormalities that included both cranio-facial and spinal deformities."

Sperm sensitivity

It appears there are regions of the sperm epigenome that are "sensitive to life experience and particularly to diet," a press release on the study stated. In the long run, these influences can change how a developing fetus grows and can also impact how heritable information is either expressed or not expressed in offspring.

While folate is added to a variety of common foods, fathers who eat lots of fast food or who have diets high in fat might not be able to metabolize folate the same as other people, Kimmins noted.

The bottom line? Dads should be more cognizant of diet – especially before and during the process of trying to conceive a child with their partners.

"Our research suggests that fathers need to think about what they put in their mouths, what they smoke and what they drink and remember they are caretakers of generations to come," said Kimmins. "If all goes as we hope, our next step will be to work with collaborators at a fertility clinic so that we can start assessing the links in men between diet, being overweight and how this information relates to the health of their children."

Source: McGill University

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