A recent study led by Sarah Kimmins from McGill University found that your daddy-to-be's diet before conception may play just as big a role in baby's development as a woman's does. Yep! You heard that correctly, dudes, so pass on the fully loaded cheese fries, will ya?
The research, which focused on the vitamin B9 (also known as folate and can be found in green leafy veggies, fruits, cereals and meats). Before conception, moms are encouraged to eat extra folate to prevent miscarriages and birth defects in baby — but dads often get a free pass. Not anymore! Researchers worked with mice and compared the offspring of fathers with insufficient folate in the diets to fathers with sufficient folate levels. Through their course of study, they found that paternal folate deficiency was associated with an increase in birth defects of various kinds in the offspring, compared to the offspring of mice whose fathers were fed with a diet sufficient in folate.
Just how extreme were the deficiencies? One of the researchers who worked on the study, Dr. Romain Lambrot , said, "We were very surprised to see that there was an almost 30 per increase in birth defects in the litters sired by fathers whose levels of folates were insufficient. We saw some pretty severe skeletal abnormalities that included both cranio-facial and spinal deformities."
Led by Kimmins, researchers were able to discover that, for the first time, a father's folate levels may be just as important to the development and health of their offspring as are those of the mother. She said, "Despite the fact that folic acid is now added to a variety of foods, fathers who are eating high-fat, fast food diets or who are obese may not be able to use or metabolize folate in the same way as those with adequate levels of the vitamin. People who live in the Canadian North or in other parts of the world where there is food insecurity may also be particularly at risk for folate deficiency. And we now know that this information will be passed on from the father to the embryo with consequences that may be quite serious."
So, what should future dads do? Watch what they eat, says Kimmins, and pay more attention to the folate they're taking in. She adds, "Our research suggests that fathers need to think about what they put in their mouths, what they smoke and what they drink and remember they are caretakers of generations to come." And further research will help support the current findings, "If all goes as we hope," she says, "our next step will be to work with collaborators at a fertility clinic so that we can start assessing the links in men between diet, being overweight and how this information relates to the health of their children."
And there you have it, folks. Proof that a dad's job is never done (and never done too early!).