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Father's Diet Influences Next Generation Health

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

What your father ate could have a big influence on you own personal risk factors for disease find researchers.

According to new evidence, parental health behaviors before conception may play an important role in the health of offspring to a greater degree than previously understood.

Oliver J. Rando, MD, PhD, associate professor of biochemistry & molecular pharmacology at UMMS and principal investigator for the study says, "Knowing what your parents were doing before you were conceived is turning out to be important in determining what disease risk factors you may be carrying."

Scientists have been studying how genetic mutations and DNA changes make humans sick. "A major and underappreciated aspect of what is transmitted from parent to child is ancestral environment," said Dr. Rando. "Our findings suggest there are many ways that parents can 'tell' their children things."

The researchers used mice fed different types of food to find how what a father eats influences the health of next generations. One group of males received a low protein diet and another was fed a standard diet. Offspring of the male mice given a low protein diet were found to have chances consistent with past studies linking paternal diet to epigenetic changes in the next generation.

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They specifically found offspring of males fed low protein diet had increased lipid and cholesterol synthesis. One such study performed retrospectively on a Swedish population called the Överkalix Cohort Study, hinted that what a grandfather ate could lead to diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease in second-generation offspring.

According to Rando, Our study begins to rule out the possibility that social and economic factors, or differences in the DNA sequence, may be contributing to what we're seeing. It strongly implicates epigenetic inheritance as a contributing factor to changes in gene function."

Hans A. Hofmann, PhD, associate professor of integrative biology at the University of Texas at Austin and a co-author of the study says, "It has increasingly become clear in recent years that mothers can endow their offspring with information about the environment, for instance via early experience and maternal factors, and thus make them possibly better adapted to environmental change. Our results show that offspring can inherit such acquired characters even from a parent they have never directly interacted with, which provides a novel mechanism through which natural selection could act in the course of evolution."

The findings from the study show it may be important to understand what parents eat when assessing for individual disease risk factors, and not just a person’s lifestyle. The researchers say they’re not certain how what your father ate transmits good or bad health, but they plan to explore how genetic information is passed from father to offspring and from mother to future generations.

Cell - 23 December 2010 (Vol. 143, Issue 7, pp. 1084-1096)