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FATHER’S DIET: How Men’s Nutrition Affects Offspring Health

FATHER'S DIET: How Men's Nutrition Affects Offspring Health
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Experiments on mice and studies of children have shown that fathers’ dietary habits can lead to metabolic disorders in their male offspring. This is particularly true for fatty foods, which can cause a high body mass index and distort the genetic information transmitted during fertilization.

 

DIET AFFECTS SPERM CHARACTERISTICS

 

Male sperm, as the research published in the international scientific journal Nature suggests, acts as a «flash drive», recording vital information about the male individual’s dietary habits. This novel finding has significant implications for our understanding of the impact of a father’s diet on his sons’ metabolism.

Observing mice, scientists discovered that the diet of male mice leaves a mark on specific RNA molecules contained in their sperm. For instance, if male individuals adopt a high-fat diet, it increases the levels of certain types of RNA in their sperm.

It turned out that such a diet is exceptionally unhealthy and dangerous, not only for the males themselves but also for their offspring. Scientists observed that male mice fed a high-fat diet produced offspring with a range of metabolic issues. For example, the offspring displayed glucose intolerance, a condition commonly associated with diabetes.

If this is the case for mice, one might assume something similar happens in humans. Indeed, epidemiological analysis has shown that boys whose fathers had a high body mass index (BMI) experience similar problems.

 

THE RIPPLE EFFECT

 

Reproductive biology specialists from the University of Utah School of Medicine in Salt Lake City conducted a series of experiments with mouse egg cells. They demonstrated that fathers’ metabolic traits are transmitted at the moment of fertilization and further passed to the offspring via the «maternal line».

The scientists discovered this by taking RNA from the sperm of fathers on a high-fat diet and using it to fertilize mouse egg cells. The resulting offspring developed severe metabolic disorders.

However, it turned out that this «ripple effect» of the parental diet was not caused by changes in the offspring’s genome but in the «epigenome». This refers to a set of chemical tags that attach to DNA via specific proteins.

 

DISTORTIONS IN TRANSFER RNAS

 

In the experiment, scientists fed male mice a high-fat diet for two weeks. This diet led to changes in the cellular structures responsible for energy generation, specifically the transfer RNA.

In the mitochondria of mouse sperm cells, RNAs serve as intermediates in the process of converting DNA into proteins. Consumption of a high-fat diet resulted in a significant increase in the number of short RNA fragments in the sperm compared to a balanced diet.

These fragments, in turn, acted as epigenetic regulators of the genome, increasing or decreasing the activity of specific mitochondrial genes.

 

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STRESS ON CELLULAR «POWERHOUSES»

 

Researchers in environmental epigenetics at the Helmholtz Center in Munich, Germany, reached similar conclusions as their American colleagues. A high-fat diet places stress on mitochondria, the «powerhouses» inside our cells.

Under stress, mitochondria start producing much more RNA to generate increased amounts of energy. In this case, the organism makes a kind of «compromise». The heightened mitochondrial activity provides sperm cells with enough power to be active and successfully reach the egg cell.

And all would be fine, except these excess mitochondrial RNAs are passed from the father to the embryo, altering its «default settings». The embryo receives distorted information from the father, which harms its health.

 

HEALTHY FOOD — HEALTHY CHILDREN!

 

The Munich team compared the cells and health of people whose fathers were overweight with those of mice whose fathers ate fatty foods. They found that about 30% had metabolic disorders. In the offspring of mice on a high-fat diet, the amount of mitochondrial transfer RNA was significantly above average.

The situation was no better for human children whose fathers had a high BMI at conception – their metabolic health also left much to be desired. Scientists acknowledge that such studies still leave many questions unanswered.

However, they are absolutely convinced that if a man wants to have healthy offspring, he must ensure a healthy and balanced diet. This is the main message the authors of the experiment wish to convey to the male half of humanity.

 

Original research: A dad’s diet affects his sperm — and his sons’ health

 


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