Women who are pregnant, or plan for pregnancy, are recommended to eat plenty of green, leafy vegetables. These are a source of vitamin B9—or folate, as it is also known—a substance that helps embryos develop by encouraging the formation of the neural tube, the precursor to the brain and the spinal cord. Folate has never been recommended to future fathers, though.
If the results of research on mice by Sarah Kimmins and her colleagues at McGill University, in Montreal, are found to apply to humans too, counselling may change profoundly.
The researchers report in their article in the renowned journal Nature Communications, that folate deficiency in fathers can, in rodents at least, be as debilitating for embryos as deficiency in mothers.
An absence of folate when sperm are forming causes alterations in them that affect their reproductive performance. Folate-deficient males were found to be less fertile than control animals and there was an increase in early pregnancy-loss. Then, when the pups were born, those fathered by the deficient males were much more likely to have deformities. Disorders not yet apparent at birth, such as cancer, diabetes, and even autism and schizophrenia cannot be evaluated by these studies, yet, but seem probable.
The damage seems to be caused by epigenetic modification, which involves a process called methylation, changing the behaviour of genes in a way that can be passed from one generation to another. Folate’s job is to regulate methylation.
Further studies are sure to follow, further contributing to our understanding of these processes. For the time being, however, all men wanting to become fathers should be recommended to be aware of a healthy and well-balanced diet rich in vegetables and fruits. For those, who find it hard to stick to healthy eating habits, a supplement such as Fertilovit® Mplus or MT can supply the folate needed.
Lambrot R, Xu C, Saint-Phar S, Chountalos G, Cohen T, Paquet M, Suderman M, Hallett M, Kimmins S. Low paternal dietary folate alters the mouse sperm epigenome and is associated with negative pregnancy outcomes. Nature Communications, 2013 4:2889 DOI: 10.1038/ncomms3889