“Eating for two” is no longer a phrase which applies only to women. A groundbreaking new study shows that the quality of a father’s diet can directly impact the health of his offspring.
The study took place at McGill University in Montreal, Canada and was recently published in the journal Nature Communications. Led by Sarah Kimmins, researchers bred mice from fathers with normal diets and fathers with diets deficient in vitamin B9. Vitamin B9 is often found in healthier foods such as leafy greens, some vegetables and some cereals. It’s also commonly called folate and added to foods in the form of folic acid.
It’s long been known mothers with B9 deficiencies subject their children to potential birth defects, but the McGill study showed the same set of birth defects can be triggered by pre-conception B9 deficiencies in the fathers as well.
Romain Lambrot, a researcher on the McGill team, noted “an almost 30-percent increase in birth defects in the litters sired by fathers whose levels of folates were insufficient.” The team reported severe skeletal abnormalities, including cranial and facial malformations, in the folate-deficient group.
Researchers think the lack of folate in a potential father’s diet effects epigenomes in his sperm. Epigenomes are like switches which activate and deactivate key genes during the development of the embryo.
As of now, this study has only connected male folate deficiency and birth defects in mice. Further study would be required to make the same correlation in humans. Any such study could profoundly affect how we treat diet when fathers are trying to conceive. Diets rich in fast foods and empty calories, even with folic acid added, often lack sufficient folates.
Potential fathers would do well to stay away from the double cheeseburgers and pick up a leafy salad instead. Remember, dads, you’re eating for two now.