By Dr Santosh Kumar Dora
Women’s health has long been known to affect her baby both prior to and at the time of pregnancy. However, there is a growing body of evidence indicating that the pre-conception health of fathers can affect both, the pregnancy and the baby. This is because fathers pass on not just their DNA but also their health to the offspring. They must thus take special care of their health, lifestyle and diet before planning to conceive a child.
The importance of paternal health in the development of an offspring is proven to be as important as it is in the case of maternal health. This is especially pertinent in today’s society where trends are at a turn with fathers taking up roles of the primary caregiver of their child. A recent Lancet study confirms the same, also revealing that paternal genes play an important role in the birth weight and brain development of the offspring.
The following are a few major risk factors that cause of genetic mutation in fathers:
Paternal alcohol exposure has been associated with harsh effects on the offspring’s growth and long-term metabolic programming, resulting in cases of increased malformations, behavioural anomalies and growth retardation in the offspring. Self-care through abstinence from alcohol goes a long way in the reproduction of a healthy offspring. A father-to-be can also reverse the damage of alcohol by quitting its consumption at least three months in advance since that is the amount of time sperm takes to fully develop. This sort of sobriety can be achieved with the help of support groups, counseling, and psychotherapy.
A Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology study of 2012 reveals that fathers-to-be who smoke are susceptible to passing on damaged DNA to their children, also raising the risk of cancer and congenital heart defects in the offspring. Besides, the rate of conditions such as lymphoma, leukemia, and brain tumors have risen up to 80 per cent among children under the age of five when the offspring’s fathers had been smokers prior to conception, even though mothers were non-smokers. Exposure to second-hand smoke has also proven to be highly detrimental to mothers-to-be. The only means of prevention happens to be the avoidance of exposure to tobacco smoke in cases of both the parents. In the case of smoking being a habit, nicotine replacement therapy, exercise, cognitive behavioural therapy, and expert guidance helps one keep away from the urges of smoking.
A recent study by the Mayo Clinic suggests that a father’s age at the time of conception might pose health risks for a baby. The sperm quality decreases as men age, starting at around age 45. A review by the National Health Service (NHS) of England also states that if men plan on becoming fathers beyond the age of 40, they face a greater risk of having children with serious illnesses as changes in the DNA interfere with the child’s health. Men must thus pay attention to their age while considering family planning. One must consult a health care specialist in case of the inability to conceive at the age of 40 or above.
Paternal obesity affects the quality of sperm. The Agency for Science, Technology and Research of Singapore has also identified the father’s weight as an important factor that combines to increase a child’s risk of obesity by up to 11-fold. Besides, pregnancy rates are also seen to be significantly lower in the case of obese fathers as the sperm generated embryos from obese males often fail to implant into the mother’s uterus. Fathers must thus pay attention to their diet by avoiding junk food and consuming a high protein and low carb diet so to take care of their health. Besides, appropriate labels of folate (0.4 mg a day) in the father’s diet, beneficial for the offspring can be acquired by eating foods like folate-fortified cereal, boiled spinach, etc.
(The writer is Senior Cardiologist, Asian Heart Institute.)