How a fathers’ lifestyle influences the health of future generations
We all know that a woman who is trying to conceive should eat a healthier and more nutritious diet. In addition, she should abstain from drugs, alcohol and cigarettes. This is because these factors can affect her chances of becoming pregnant, as well as have a negative effect on her developing fetus should she fall pregnant. Even a woman’ level of emotional stress could influence her fertility and pregnancy success. But does the same apply to men? How does a man’s lifestyle affect conception and the health of his offspring?
Unlike women, men’s reproductive health is under-emphasised and men are largely left out of pre-conception planning. This is despite the fact that male infertility is on the rise, with lower sperm counts and damaged sperm becoming more prevalent. Now, however, new studies are beginning to show that a father’s lifestyle can impact the possibility of pregnancy, as well as the long-term health of his children.
More than genes
Though the saying goes, “It’s all in genes,” scientists have discovered there’s more to our genetic inheritance than that. Beyond our DNA code is epigenetics, which can be defined as, “a heritable layer of biochemical information associated with DNA, and transmitted via the sperm and egg.”
According to Sarah Kimmins, PhD, who holds a Canada Research Chair in Epigenetics, Reproduction and Development and is an Associate Professor at McGill University, Montreal, “We are now beginning to understand that sperm epigenome contains a lifetime memory of paternal experiences. Everything is a man’s daily lifestyle, including his environment, diet, exercise, alcohol and smoking have the potential to disrupt (or support) the setting of the sperm epigenome, which is then passed on to future generations.”
Danger of chemicals
Besides lifestyle, says Kimmins, other factors that can contribute to male infertility are “Chronic conditions like obesity, cardiovascular disease and metabolic disorders, as well as paternal age and heightened stress.” Furthermore, the researchers at McGill University also believe that, “Reduced fertility may be in part attributable to the dramatic increases in chemical production and consequent human exposure.”
Their studies show that there are now about 80,000 chemicals registered for commercial use. We are exposed to these chemicals daily, be it at work, in household products, in the environment, as well as food and cosmetics. As an alarming result, high levels of common toxicants, like bisphenol A and phthalates can now be detected in urine and blood analysis of not just adults, but children too.
While only a handful of research groups worldwide are addressing the cause and effect of lifestyle and chemical exposure to human infertility and epigenetic inheritance, it is becoming increasingly that a father’s way of life plays a vital role in determining his child’s development and health. As such, Kimmins suggests that, “Men should become more involved in pre-conception planning and young men must be educated that their choices today may influence health beyond their own.”