Father's Day: The passing on of paternal health to the offspring
This Father's Day, experts at Asian Heart Institute talk about the transference of not just the father's DNA but his health to the offspring
Women’s health has long been known to affect her baby’s health both prior to and at the time of pregnancy. However, there is a growing body of evidence indicating that pre-conception health of fathers can also affect the pregnancy and the baby. As per a recent Lancet study the health of both women and men, before they even conceive a child, can have profound impacts on the health of their offspring - such as birth weight and brain development.
“While the changing trends in society have taken a turn where fathers are now taking up roles of the primary caregiver of their child, understanding the importance of paternal health in the development of an offspring is as important as it is in the case of maternal health,” says Dr Vijay D’Silva, Director - Medical Affairs & Critical Care, Asian Heart Institute.
Senior Cardiologist Dr Santosh Kumar Dora of the Asian Heart Institute adds that “Fathers must pay as much attention to their lifestyle and diet before they set out to conceive a child as mothers do.”
Experts chart out some key risk factors that are a major cause of genetic mutation in fathers:
Predicting the level of genetic damage in the newborn, a 2012 study published in the Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology reveals that fathers-to-be who smoke are susceptible to passing on damaged DNA to their children, also raising the risk of cancer and congenital heart defects in the offspring. Besides, Australia, Europe and China have identified a 30 percent increase in the rate of childhood cancers when fathers smoked prior to conception. In fact, the rate of lymphoma, leukaemia and brain tumours have raised up to 80% higher in children under the age of five when the offspring’s fathers had been smokers prior to conception, even though mothers were non-smokers. Paternal smoking also results in maternal passive smoking, and for mothers-to-be, both smoking and exposure to second-hand smoke prove to be highly detrimental. The only means of prevention happens to be the avoidance of exposure to tobacco smoke in cases of both the parents. In the case of smoking being a habit, nicotine replacement therapy, exercise, cognitive behavioural therapy and expert guidance helps keep away from the triggers or urges of smoking.
Harsh effects on the offspring’s growth and long-term metabolic programming have also been associated with paternal alcohol exposure. It has been associated with increased malformations, behavioural anomalies and growth retardation in the offspring. Abstinence and self-care go a long way in the reproduction of a healthy offspring. However, in cases of alcoholism, a father-to-be can reverse the damage of alcohol by quitting alcohol at least 3 months in advance since that is how long it takes for sperm to fully develop. This can be achieved with the help of support groups, therapies, counselling and psychotherapy.
Despite the common belief that age affects only female fertility, there is growing evidence that sperm quality decreases as men age, starting at around 45. Studies by the Mayo Clinic suggests that a father's age at the time of conception might pose health risks for a baby. A review by the National Health Service (NHS) of England states that if men become fathers beyond the age of 40, they face a greater risk of having children with serious illnesses as changes in the DNA may affect the child's health. Men must thus pay attention to their age while considering family planning. In case of the inability to conceive at the age of 40 or above, one must consult a health care specialist.
While paternal obesity affects the quality of sperm, the agency for Science, Technology and Research of Singapore has identified the father's weight to be an important factor that combines to increase a child's risk of obesity by up to 11-fold. It was discovered that rates of pregnancy were significantly lower in the case of obese fathers as the sperm generated embryos from obese males failed to implant into the mother’s uterus. Fathers must thus pay attention to their diet by avoiding junk food and consuming a high protein and low carb diet so to take care of their health. Appropriate labels of folate (0.4 mg a day) in the father’s diet, beneficial for the offspring can be acquired by eating foods like folate-fortified cereal, boiled spinach etc.
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