Medical researchers have directly linked birth defects to a father’s age, environmental factors and alcohol use, even though both parents can contribute to their children’s health condition.
Men are therefore being warned to become fathers by 40 or face a greater risk of having children with serious illnesses. The review discusses several research findings found previously, including some reports that children born to fathers over the age of 40 have higher rates of conditions like autism spectrum disorder – and that stress, smoking and alcohol may also cause heritable changes.
Researchers at the Georgetown University Medical Center, say these defects were caused by the epigenetic changes that can likely affect later generations.
Epigenetics is the study of how external and environmental factors can affect gene expression – essentially, turning some genes “off” so they are not “read” by the body and have no effect on biological processes.
The study, published in the American Journal of Stem Cells, suggest both parents contribute to the health status of their offspring –an analysis which science has just begun to demonstrate.
Senior investigator, Joanna Kitlinska, PhD, an associate professor in biochemistry, and molecular and cellular biology, said that they are aware of the hormonal, nutritional and psychological environment being provided by the mother, which make changes in the gene expression, cellular response and organ structure in the child.
Dr. Kitlinska further explained that the same thing can also be said about the father. A father’s age and lifestyle can be manifested in molecules controlling the gene function. Hence, affecting the immediate children and also the future generations.
For example, a newborn can be diagnosed with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), even though the mother has never consumed alcohol, Kitlinska says:
“Up to 75 percent of children with FASD have biological fathers who are alcoholics, suggesting that preconceptual paternal alcohol consumption negatively impacts their offspring.”
The report was based on a review of human, evidence and animal regarding the relationship between the heritable epigenetic programming and the fathers.
Some of the studies reviewed include: limited diet of the father during his pre-adolescence years, which has been associated with lesser risk of cardiovascular death in his offspring and grandchildren; and the father’s advanced age, linked to increased levels of autism, birth defects and schizophrenia in his children.
Birth defects like the significant reduction in the brain size, impaired cognitive function and reduced birth weight among newborns were also found to be caused by the paternal alcohol use.
Moreover, it was also found that the father’s obesity is associated with changes in regular metabolism, diabetes, the development of brain cancer and enlargement of fat cells.