A finding published this week in the journal Nature suggests that a dad’s diet affects his child’s health. Through chemical tweaks in the sperm, a father can transfer unhealthy dietary effects to his babies.
Moms have been getting a talking-to lately about pregnancy weight. So, thank you. It’s nice to hear dad being brought into the picture.
Researchers at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia fed groups of mice different diets. As expected, the ones with high fat diets got heavier and showed signs of type 2 diabetes.
Next, they had babies. And surprisingly, the babies of dads who had been fed the unhealthy diets showed signs of developing type 2 diabetes as well (as opposed to the controls whose dads had healthy diets).
Here’s how dads could pass on unhealthy eating habits to babies:
The researchers think that ‘epigenetic’ mechanisms are at play. This means that a dad’s high fat diet doesn’t make changes to his DNA, but rather to the chemical signals that regulate — or turn on and off — his DNA.
The offspring of these dads (the effect has only been seen in daughters so far) had trouble regulating glucose and showed signs of insulin resistance — both symptoms of diabetes.
When the scientists looked closer, they found that the babies showed changes in the expression of 600 pancreatic islet genes (the pancreatic islets are where insulin is made — deficient insulin is the hallmark of diabetes).
These were mice, not humans, so we have to be careful not to get carried away with what it means for us. It’s safe to say that this is an interesting finding and it might direct scientists to look more closely a this epigenetic transfer from dad to baby.
And as the waistline of the population continues to expand, it’s important to look at all possible mechanisms at play. Heavy dads passing on sub-par insulin function might be one small piece of the puzzle.
Mom isn’t off the hook though, because the effects were even stronger when mom was the heavy one.
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