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How a Father’s Health Shapes Offspring’s DNA

By Daniel Stickler M.D. | Articles

While father’s do not play an active role in offspring development during pregnancy, the state of their health before conception impacts DNA expression in their sperm. Future fathers may not realize how their diet, experiences, and environment can influence the mental and physical development of their future children. How can fathers play an active role to give their children and future generations the best possible expression of their DNA?

DNA is the Historical Memory Bank

DNA is a beautiful and intelligently designed molecule with an adaptive ability that we can only imagine.

Our DNA is constantly assessing the surrounding environment (nutrition, activity, stress and stressors, sleep, toxins, etc) and making adjustments (epigenetic alterations) to change the way our genes are expressed in order to thrive in the existing environment.

Now, in males, it was previously believed that sperm only carried a strand of DNA. We now understand that the sperm accumulates messages, kind of like Post-it notes from other cells in the body, informing the sperm of the situation or conditions which they are experiencing in their current environment. These messages will change the epigenetics of the DNA contained in the sperm and alter the expressions of the code that it carries. This seems to have the purpose of preparing the potential offspring for the environment that it will be born into. Some of these historical records can be passed along for many generations without actually changing the underlying genetic code, only the way that code is expressed. This process can be leveraged to create an optimal expression for future offspring or it can have a significant negative impact. This is why the father’s lifestyle plays a bigger role than we previously considered.

Mental Fitness

The diet and activity of a man can impact the DNA in his sperm which will be passed on to future offspring. Studies have found that negative DNA factors passed along from sperm cannot always be epigenetically suppressed, so taking action before conception can be crucial.

Consuming diets high in B-12 (cyanocobalamin form) and folic acid, the synthetic form of folate in many vitamins and fortified foods, can have a negative impact on paternal DNA methylation. This shows up in gene expression related to memory tests caused by slowed neural communication, weak neuroplasticity, and reduced adaptability. Men may unknowingly consume high amounts of B-12 in the form of energy drinks.

Parental exercise has been linked to improved mental capacity and intelligence in offspring. Two forms of microRNA accumulate in the sperm of males who perform regular physical activity. These microRNAs are responsible for increased synaptic plasticity and higher learning rates.

Daughters and Cancer Risk

While mothers might come to mind when the risk of breast cancer is discussed, the father’s DNA can play a crucial role in the risk of breast cancer. Click To Tweet Overweight fathers can pass along microRNA with gene expressions that increase the risk of breast cancer and altered mammary gland development in their daughters.

The increased cancer risk makes the father’s weight an area of focus before conception.

Potential fathers should adhere to the same guidelines as fertile women regarding eating a proper diet and getting adequate exercise.

Epigenetic Inheritance

Three epigenetic issues that can be paternally inherited include DNA methylation, histone modifications, and noncoding RNAs (ncRNAs). It is important to realize that there are degrees of the epigenetic changes, also referred to as epigenetic marks. Some of these marks are written in ink and will persist throughout the life of the offspring and even be passed to subsequent generations. Other marks are written in pencil and can be altered by lifestyle of the offspring and usually not passed to subsequent generations.

DNA methylation can result in structural abnormalities which negatively impact gene expression.  Some of the DNA methylations that occurs in fathers can be passed along in the sperm resulting in genome-wide reprogramming. Children can be at increased risk for diabetes, fertility issues, high blood pressure, and other chronic health disorders. DNA methylation is one of those epigenetic marks that are written in ink instead of pencil.

Histone modifications: Histones are proteins that wrap and pack DNA and they can control whether the particular portion of DNA is available to be read. It can be wrapped in ways that result in the DNA sequence not being read, reduced read frequency, or increased read frequency. This is a way of changing the expression of our code. These types of modifications are usually the pencil written alterations where we have the ability to change their message through lifestyle modifications.

Noncoding RNA (ncRNA) are RNA fragments. We are just beginning to understand the importance and function of ncRNA. These ncRNA’s are messages that contain instructions for the DNA to optimize and thrive through expressions that exist in the environment. In the conception realm, the sperm will carry these messages from what the father is experiencing at the time of conception and there are also messages from previous generations of the father coded here. These ncRNA’s can create bith DNA methylation patterns and histone modifications.

What is the message you are sending to your future offspring about your lifestyle?

Life Experiences

There are many lifestyle factors and behaviors of fathers that can impact their offspring; and this impact of parental DNA expression is seen for several generations. Click To Tweet

Fathers that are alcoholics run an increased risk of having a child with fetal alcohol syndrome. This is true even in cases where the mother was not an alcoholic and abstained from alcohol during their pregnancy. Paternal alcohol abuse is also connected to reduced birth weight, brain size, and impaired cognitive development.

Paternal obesity leads to hypomethylation of the IGF2 gene increasing protein expression. As a result of this modification, the children of obese fathers are at increased risk for diabetes, obesity, and other metabolic disorders.

When males are exposed to radiation or other environmental toxins such as cigarette smoke, pollution, organotoxins, and plasticizers, hypomethylation occurs and their children can have decreased virility, diminishing their sex hormone production and impacting their ability to produce their own offspring.

Stress in males leads to altered methylation patterns and increased glucocorticoids (stress hormone) expression. This can result in increased risk for insulin resistance and abnormal stress responses in offspring.

Diet

The quality and quantity of food males consume directly impacts the DNA in their sperm. Folate (natural form) deficiency in men has been linked to congenital anomalies and cognitive impairment in offspring. Craniofacial and musculoskeletal malformation can result from the DNA methylation and histones that result from this deficiency.

Diet early in the father’s life is a predictor of future health in their offspring. Men who experienced limited caloric consumption early in their life epigenetically produce offspring with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.

Alcohol Preference

The drinking preferences of the father can impact future substance preferences and reactions in their sons. Daughters seem to be immune to this effect of paternal substance use and alcohol consumption habits. 

If a father has a history of substance abuse, their future sons may have an enhanced taste for alcohol. However, this does not necessarily translate into an increased risk for substance abuse as fathers who do not have any prior substance abuse issues can have offspring that experience addiction. Studies show a small genetic link to addiction but indicate a preference for alcohol based on the father’s alcohol use.

Conclusions

Previously, attention was focused on the mother’s lifestyle and health when considering the impact genetics would have on offspring. Epigenetics has shown that the father also plays a crucial role as they contribute their genetic material into the mix and this comes with inherited gene expressions.

When considering fatherhood, men should take heed of their own physical and mental health. With the help of an epigenetic coach, they can learn to make improvements in their diet, exercise, and lifestyle to help improve the DNA expression and create the super-baby that we all want.

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Daniel Stickler M.D.

Daniel L. Stickler, M.D. is the medical director and Co-Founder of Apeiron ZOH Corporation.He is the visionary pioneer behind systems-based precision performance medicine, a new paradigm that re-defines medicine from the old symptoms based disease model to one of limitless peak performance in all aspects of life. A physician to high-performing executives and entrepreneurs who want to upgrade their current state, he’s also an author, speaker, blogger and podcaster. He is a Google consultant for wearable technology, epigenetics, and AI in healthcare and a guest lecturer at Stanford University on Epigenetics in Clinical Practice.
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