New study shows Dad's unhealthy behaviors may be bad for baby too
Before you light that cigarette, men, you might think about whether you want to have a child some day. That's the message in new research that shows the life choices both women and men make long before they conceive a child may have a permanent, genetic impact on any future offspring.
New scientific research suggests that a father's health can have an impact on infants — that it's no longer just the mother whose lifestyle choices can negatively affect the health of a child.
A new branch of science suggets that epigenetic factors in a father's life — such as trauma he's experienced, diseases he once had and even foods he ate — can have an impact on the health of future offspring, even if these behaviors and events took place long before conception.
The study was recently discussed in The New York Times, generating an outpouring of response from dads who are expecting.
Dr. Dolores Malaspina, a professor of psychiatry at New York University, says that more and more evidence has shown that it is not just the sequence of DNA that is passed on to our children.
"There's this other source of information for the lived experiences of mom and dad, even before the offspring was a fused sperm and egg," she said.
The evolutionary reason for this is that the child is being "best fit" for the environment it is likely going to be born into. Epigenetic mechanisms can turn genes on and off, in order to make the fetus better-suited to the environment of his or her parents.
Count Erik German among the expecting fathers whose concerned about how his own past behaviors could negatively impact his child.
"I was a pretty enthusiastic cigarette smoker in college," he said, and though his wife was taking vitamins "like crazy" before their pregnancy, he wasn't.
But Malaspina says German and other parents shouldn't panic. In fact, she said, the news isn't all bad.
"Because we study diseases, we pick those up, but perhaps some of the gifted and most individually capable creative thinkers have also had parents with unusual exposures," she said.
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