A father’s diet determines the future health of the child

A poor paternal diet could modify the expression of genes during the development of the fetus and thus predispose the future child to certain diseases. In other words, not only are bad lifestyle habits detrimental to health, but their negative impact can be passed on to the next generation!

As we all know, we are the result of the interaction of genes bequeathed by each of our parents following the fertilization of an egg by a sperm. What we know less, on the other hand, is that this assembly of genes is not the only one responsible for our appearance and our personality, that is to say the uniqueness of our existence. In practice, the expression of the genes we inherited from our parents is strongly influenced by a host of factors from the environment around us, a phenomenon called epigenetics, which means “on genetics”. The interaction with the social environment, the various life experiences, whether beneficial or traumatic, and what we eat exert an enormous influence on the expression of our genes and our behavior. In other words, the profound differences that distinguish human beings from each other are not only due to genetic differences, but also to epigenetics, that is, to the modulation of these genes by the environment of life.

In addition to modulating the expression of genes after birth, we have known for several years that this living environment can also influence the development of the child even before birth. This is a phenomenon that is still poorly understood, but it is possible that epigenetics will serve to prepare the next generation for the life conditions that await it.

Stress that is transmitted to the genes

The famines which occurred in Europe during the Second World War are a good illustration of this phenomenon. In the Netherlands, for example, Dutch resistance to the Nazis during the war forced them to drastically reduce their calorie intake (less than 1,000 calories a day), a deficiency that was particularly cruel for women who were pregnant during this period ( October 1944-May 1945). Subsequent studies showed that children who had undergone nutritional restriction at the beginning of pregnancy were more likely to show several metabolic disorders (increase in blood lipids, glucose intolerance) as well as a greater tendency to become obese. It seems that the information of a nutritional deficiency transmitted to the fetus by the mother led to a reprogramming of the metabolism of the latter, so as to assimilate the maximum of available calories. On the other hand, when these children were born, the war and the famine were over and their metabolism had become much too efficient for a normal diet.

The diet of the father influences the health of the child

If the influence of the mother’s diet on the health of her future child is intuitively easy to understand, studies suggest that the nature of the father’s diet could also have repercussions on the newborn. Using animal models, researchers have observed that children whose fathers ate a high-fat diet quickly showed sugar intolerance and a loss of their ability to secrete insulin, compared to descendants of animals with a high fat diet. a normal diet. These abnormalities are associated with major changes in the expression profile of several genes in pancreatic cells.

Similarly, another group of researchers showed that children born to fathers with a protein-deficient diet showed abnormalities in the expression of several genes involved in fat and cholesterol metabolism. The intergenerational transmission of metabolic problems stemming from a poor paternal diet illustrates in a vivid way how much what we eat can influence the functioning of the organism. For men who want children, these studies also suggest that they can play a positive role in the health of their offspring by adopting healthy eating habits.

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Ng SF et al. Chronic high-fat diet in fathers programs cell dysfunction in female rat offspring. Nature, 467:963-66.

Carone BR et al. Paternally induced transgenerational environmental reprogramming of metabolic gene expression in mammals. Cell, 143:1084-96.

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