When a woman is pregnant, the focus of the coming baby’s health is centered around the mother, but new research is showing that the father’s lifestyle prior to conception is just as important. Sarah Kimmins, a researcher at McGill University, has found that the diet of the father plays a very important role in the health of a baby during pregnancy and after birth. Specifically, Kimmins focuses on vitamin B9 which is a form of folic acid found in green, leafy vegetables, cereals. B9 plays an important role in the mother’s body to prevent miscarriage during pregnancy, but what role does it play in the father? According to her most recent study that was published in Nature Communications, that the folate levels in the father’s sperm prior to conception is just as important as the folate levels in the pregnant mother after conception.
Kimmins says, “Despite the fact that folic acid is now added to a variety of foods, fathers who are eating high-fat, fast-food diets or who are obese may not be able to use or metabolize folate in the same way as those with adequate levels of the vitamin,” says Kimmins. “People who live in the Canadian North or in other parts of the world where there is food insecurity may also be particularly at risk for folate deficiency. And we now know that this information will be passed on from the father to the embryo with consequences that may be quite serious.”
The researchers studied the reactions of folate levels by depriving male mice of vitamin B9 prior to letting them breed. The mice with the B9 deficiencies had a much higher rate of birth defects among their offspring as compared to the mice that had normal B9 levels. Kimmins reported, “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 Dr. Romain Lambrot, of McGill’s Dept. of Animal Science, one of the researchers who worked on the study. “We saw some pretty severe skeletal abnormalities that included both craniofacial and spinal deformities.”
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This research is important because of the lack of B9 vitamins found in the typical western diet. In the end, healthier sperm makes for a healthier baby. Kimmins concluded, “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.”