Many people often feel a man’s health prior to starting a family have little implications on their child’s future health. Many are often under the assumption that a father is merely passing down physically noticeable genetic traits. New research is now proving there is much more being passed down than what meets the eye.
Epigenetic responses occur in both men and women. Epigenetics (in case you do not recall from my topic on Genetics) are known has heritable changes in DNA function without changes in the DNA sequence. This happens when a methyl group (a carbon atom attaches to three hydrogen atoms) attaches to specific sites on a gene. This process is referred to as DNA methylation. When DNA methylation occurs it alters the gene activation and expression. Therefore turning it off or turning it on, or even making it act quieter or louder. Methylation takes place as a response to our ever changing environments. Epigenetic changes from both men and women can be passed down as far as the third generation.
The most common environmental exposures resulting in epigenetic responses include: stress, toxins, type of nutrients we have available to eat, and amount physical activity. Our bodies respond to every environment we encounter by epigenetics. The amount of exposure to any environment good or bad results in how the genes are expressed. As mentioned earlier these gene expressions have been shown to be heritable.
Autism and Weight: Recent studies have found children conceived from a father who was overweight have an increased chance of developing autism. Autism has not yet been found to be related to the mother’s weight during pregnancy. Studies have also shown links between children conceived from a father who is overweight having a higher risk of becoming overweight themselves (similar results found with mother’s weight as well).
Type 1 Diabetes: A study was conducted to determine maternal and paternal effects of diabetes on offspring. Results showed children born from fathers who had type 1 Diabetes had an increased risk of having type 1 Diabetes as opposed to those born of mother’s with type 1 Diabetes.
Sperm requires a lot of oxygen because of the energy needed to swim. Due to their small size they are not able to carry many protective antioxidant enzymes. Therefore, they are more susceptible to damage from oxidative stress.
Erin, what is oxidative stress?
Oxidative stress is a series of reactions in which toxic oxygen metabolites (substance produced by or takes part in metabolism) damage cell structure and function along with the methods living organisms use to protect themselves.
What many people do not realize is there are many different avenues to be exposed to oxidative stress. For example, toxins from work place materials, tobacco, alcohol, household chemicals, garden chemicals, and even aging of cells.
Here are a few examples of how oxidative stress in men impacts their children.
Toxins: Studies have discovered a link between Veterans exposed to Agent Orange having daughters diagnosed with Endometriosis.
Age: Sperm of older men have also shown to be a possible contributing factor to miscarriages. Another discovery is an estimated 5% of Down Syndrome has been related to an extra number 21 chromosome from “older” sperm.
Erin, what can I do about this?
Good news! There are a few lifestyle changes you can start doing today.
1). Decrease the amount of toxins you are exposed to on a daily and even weekly basis. This may be difficult in some situations but as I mentioned there are multiple avenues when it comes to exposure of toxins so pick 1 to start and go from there.
2) Get physically active. I am not saying to train for a marathon or a body building competition. Start with walking every day. You can eve start today with 5 minutes, because at the end of the week you will have 35 more minutes of physical activity than you would have otherwise. You can always buildup to 30 minutes of physical activity a day.
3) Get the right nutrients in your body to have a healthy life. Make sure you are eating more “real food” than packaged food. If you have packaged food a good rule of thumb is, “If you cannot buy these same ingredients at your local grocery store and you cannot make it at home then you shouldn’t be eating it”.
4) The majority of vitamins and minerals need to come from food not from supplements. The key word here is supplement, they do just that. They supplement what you may be missing but cannot ever replace what is needed.
These same tips apply if you already have children because you are teaching them to make healthier life choices. One of the many amazing things about our bodies is it always responds to our environment. At any age every moment that passes by is another chance to make a healthier choice to have lasting effects generations past our very own.
Another helpful tip:
Men are also able to have preconception checkups. Call your doctor today to schedule an appointment if you and are planning to start a family or considering donating your sperm.
Pal Suren, M.D., Ph.D., division of epidemiology, Norwegian Institute of Public Health, Oslo; Andrew Adesman, M.D., chief, developmental and behavioral pediatrics, Steven & Alexandra Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York, New Hyde Park, N.Y.; May 2014 Pediatrics, online