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What males eat matters from the very beginning


Thursday, December 31, 2015, 2:00 PM

Male mice fed a high-fat diet produced offspring with health problems.Andrei Tchernov – iStock/Getty

A dad’s diet can make his future kids fat — at least when it comes to mice.

The way male rodents eat is enough to cause major changes in the sperm, and therefore their children, according to two new studies published in the Jan. 1 edition of “Science.”

In one study, mice were fed a high-fat diet and their offspring wound up with insulin problems. In the second study, mice were fed a low-protein diet and those kids made more cholesterol.

“This helps us understand what is carried onto the offspring,” said Upasna Sharma, a researcher at the University of Massachusetts and an author of one of the papers. “We need to know what molecules we carry and how it is carried through the sperm.”

The studies were conducted in mice, but Sharma notes that rodents are mammals so these findings could also hold true for humans.

“Whatever the diet, it is passed on through the sperm,” she said.

The research bolsters previous findings that a male’s lifestyle does affect his offspring.

In both studies, scientists fertilized mouse eggs using sperm from mice that were fed a high-fat diet or a low-protein diet and compared those offspring to mice created from fathers fed a normal diet.

Initially, in the high-fat study, the two groups of offspring weighed about the same. As they developed, however, problems became apparent by 7 weeks. The mice with high-fat-fed fathers had impaired glucose tolerance. By 15 weeks, these problems were severe.

And the fathers fed the low-protein diet had children with impaired abilities to metabolize cholesterol.

It’s still unknown whether what a human dad eats will cause similar issues in kids. “That is the next phase,” said Oliver Rando, professor of biochemistry at UMass, who’s familiar with both studies. “We do know ancestral diet does affect metabolism in future generations in humans.”


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