The Father’s Lifestyle Can Influence Fetal Birth Defects

By joel (Flickr: Shower Time!) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

There’s a growing body of research that reveals an association between birth defects and a father’s age, alcohol use and environmental factors, according to researchers from Georgetown University Medical Center. The team says these defects result from epigenetic alterations that may potentially affect multiple generations.

The Study

Results of the study done by Georgetown University Medical Center was published in the American Journal of Stem Cells, and suggests both parents may add to the health status of their offspring-a common sense assumption that science is only now starting to recognize, says the senior investigator of the study, Dr. Joanna Kitilinska, associate professor of biochemistry, and molecular and cellular biology.
She states, “We know the nutritional, hormonal and psychological environment provided by the mother permanently alters organ structure, cellular response and gene expression in her offspring.”

She continues, “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. In this way, a father can affect not only his immediate offspring, but future generations as well.”

An example would be a newborn can be diagnosed with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), even though a mother has never consumed alcohol, Kitilinska says. “Up to 75 percent of children with FASD have biological fathers who are alcoholics, suggesting that preconceptual paternal alcohol consumption negatively impacts their offspring.”

Researchers reviewed evidence from humans and animals, published to date, on links between the fathers and heritable epigenetic programming.
Among the studies reviewed are ones that found the following:

•Advanced age of the father is associated with elevated rates of schizophrenia, autism and birth defects in his children.
•A limited diet during a father’s preadolescence has been proven to reduce the risk of cardiovascular deaths in his children and grandchildren.
•Paternal obesity is associated with enlarged fat cells, changes in metabolic regulation, obesity, diabetes and the development of brain cancer.
•Psychological stress on the father is linked to defective behavioral traits in his offspring; and
•Fathers who use alcohol can result in a newborn having a decreased birth weight, marked reduction in overall brain size and an impairment of cognitive function.

Conclusion to the Study:

“This new field of inherited paternal epigenetics needs to be organized into clinically applicable recommendations and lifestyle alternations,” Kitilinska says, “And 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.”

If you are a female and your male partner or spouse is of an advanced age and you’re considering having children, it may be wise to consider past and present lifestyle habits, as well as genetic testing prior to conceiving, in order to ensure future offspring are as healthy as possible.


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