Washington | Father’s age, alcohol use and and other lifestyle factors may lead to birth defects that can potentially affect multiple generations, a new study suggests. The study suggests both parents contribute to the health status of their offspring, said Joanna Kitlinska, an associate professor at the Georgetown University Medical Centre in US.We know the nutritional, hormonal and psychological environment provided by the mother permanently alters organ structure, cellular response and gene expression in her offspring, Kitlinska said.
But our study shows the same thing to be true with fathers – his lifestyle, and how old he is, can be reflected in molecules that control gene function, she said. In this way, a father can affect not only his immediate offspring, but future generations as well, she added. For example, a newborn can be diagnosed with foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), even though the mother has never consumed alcohol, Kitlinska said.
Up to 75 per cent of children with FASD have biological fathers who are alcoholics, suggesting that preconceptual paternal alcohol consumption negatively impacts their offspring, she said. The report is a review of evidence, human and animal, published to date on the link between fathers and heritable epigenetic programming.
Among the studies reviewed, one found that advanced age of a father is correlated with elevated rates of schizophrenia, autism and birth defects in his children. According to another study, a limited diet during a father’s pre-adolescence has been linked to reduced risk of cardiovascular death in his children and grandchildren.
Paternal obesity was linked to enlarged fat cells, changes in metabolic regulation, diabetes, obesity and development of brain cancer in one of the studies reviewed. In other studies, psychosocial stress on the father was linked to defective behavioural traits in his offspring and paternal alcohol use leads to decreased newborn birth weight, marked reduction in overall brain size and impaired cognitive function.
This new field of inherited paternal epigenetics needs to be organised into clinically applicable recommendations and lifestyle alternations, Kitlinska said. To really understand the epigenetic influences of a child, we need to study the interplay between maternal and paternal effects, as opposed to considering each in isolation, she said.
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