More research is finding that the physical and mental health of men preconception can be just as important as that of women to the eventual health of a child.
The onus has long been on women to get their health in order both in the preconception and pregnancy stage. Thankfully, it’s almost universal that a woman will stop smoking, drinking alcohol or taking drugs recreational or otherwise to ensure the optimum health of the foetus during the pregnancy.
But the past 20 years has also seen a growing array of research which suggests it is perhaps equally important for men to think about their lifestyle choices prior to having children.
The science – known as epigenetics – is by no means settled, but is increasingly supportive of the finding that men’s preconception behaviour and lifestyle choices may affect pregnancy outcomes and later life conditions including depression, blood sugar levels and even alcohol dependency.
“We know the nutritional, hormonal and psychological environment provided by the mother permanently alters organ structure, cellular response and gene expression in her offspring,” wrote Dr Joanna Kitlinska, an associate professor in biochemistry, and molecular and cellular biology at Georgetown University in American Journal Of Stem Cell. “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.”
Heritable genetic marks resulting from a father-to-be’s diet, exposure to toxins and stress are some of the lifestyle factors tested in research, with, for example, foetal alcohol spectrum disorder found in babies whose biological fathers are alcoholics.
There is even evidence that a father’s level of nutrition as far back as adolescence may cause epigenetic modification which later affects the cardiovascular health of his child and even grandchild.
It’s an arresting thought for blokes, who’ve generally blazed away doing whatever they were doing before, pregnancy or no pregnancy, and should result in a sober reassessment of what we can do to ensure our genetic contribution to the conception is as healthy as possible.
For more detail on preconception epigenetics, check here.