A number of years ago, my friend Jeff went on a diet. He wasn’t trying to lose weight or make significant changes to his health—he was in pretty good shape and lived an active life. Still, he elected to include more salads in his diet, cut processed foods, fatty foods, high glycemic foods, junk food, and gave up drinking.
When I asked him why, he said it was because he and his wife were attempting to have a child and he felt that the healthier he was, the healthier his baby would be. His theory made sense, but I wasn’t exactly sure why he was so confident he was right.
Fast forward to today, and a new study is supporting exactly what Jeff was saying. It shows birth defects in babies are closely linked to what their father eats.
Once again, we see just how important diet is—and not just for you, but for the future of your family—to a healthy existence.
The study, conducted in mice, fed one group of males a diet deficient in folate and vitamin B9 and the other a well-balanced diet. At the end, birth defects were 28% higher from folate-deficient fathers. Folate is found in leafy green vegetables, cereal, fruit, beans, and liver.
Their sperm affected genes linked to the development of cancer, diabetes, autism, and schizophrenia. Babies were born with physical defects like face and skull abnormalities, small lower jaws, and webbed or fused toes and feet.
One in 33 babies is born with a birth defect, so folate deficiencies in fathers may play a role. However, the study is still yet to be reproduced using humans but genetic and reproductive similarities with mice lead researchers to believe a study would yield similar results.
This research is important because folate absorption in certain populations is problematic. For example, some research has shown obesity causes poor folate absorption in the bloodstream. Also, some people just don’t have a diet that contains enough folate.
If you’re obese and don’t get enough folate, are you doomed to have a child with birth defects? No—but there is an increased chance. That being said, it takes about three months for a sperm to develop and mature, so increasing folate intake and improving your diet prior to a conception attempt—like my friend Jeff—might lower the risk.
Once again we see a direct correlation between what you put inside you and what comes out. Eat a balanced and nutritious diet and you can save a life other than just your own.
Chung, E., “Birth Defect Risk Affected By Father’s Diet, Study Suggests,” CBC News web site, December 10, 2013; http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/birth-defect-risk-affected-by-father-s-diet-study-suggests-1.2458179, last accessed December 12, 2013.