A woman planning pregnancy is always recommended to follow a healthy lifestyle to have a healthy baby. However, a new study shows that a father's lifestyle choices also have an equally important role in the unborn baby's well-being.
Folic acid (vitamin B9) is one of the important medicines prescribed both before and during pregnancy, to ensure proper growth and development of the baby in the mother's womb. Previous research has pointed out its role in preventing a wide range of birth defects in babies and protecting them against autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and deadly childhood cancers. Till date, all of these facts were thought to be influenced only by maternal folic levels.
However, latest research shows that babies of fathers deficient in folic acid are at a greater risk of birth defects than others.
Sarah Kimmins and colleagues from McGill University in Canada reached this conclusion after conducting experiments on mice. During the study, researchers analysed two groups of the animals and their pups. They fed first group of rodents a diet high in folate, while the second group received a diet low in folate. Birth defects were high among babies of the animals who took a low folate diet.
"We were very surprised to see that there was an almost 30 per cent increase in birth defects in the litters sired by fathers whose levels of folates were insufficient," researcher Dr. Romain Lambrot, said in a news release. "We saw some pretty severe skeletal abnormalities that included both cranio-facial and spinal deformities."
During further investigation, researchers noticed that certain regions of the sperm epigenome were highly sensitive to diet. The sperm transferred memory of father's environment, diet and lifestyle choices to the child. "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," Kimmins, Said.
The study has been published in the journal Nature Communications.
Previous studies have shown that folic acid deficiency in pregnancy leading to birth defects like cleft lip and palate (CPL) and anencephaly - one of the most common neural tube defects (NTD) in which a baby is born without the major portion of brain, skull and scalp - in children.