Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Paternal Supplements Help Offspring Health

An antioxidant and vitamin supplement taken by prospective fathers may prevent millions of the world’s malnourished men from passing on their poor health to their children.

A study published in Scientific Reports (http://www.nature.com/articles/srep27010) reported that the offspring of malnourished male mice were often born with low birth weight, and showed evidence of abnormal gene expression and metabolic markers such as cholesterol and fats. The offspring were prone to increased risk of non-communicable diseases, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, mirroring the situation for human children born in the developing world.

However, a paternal diet containing additional zinc, folate, iron and other vitamin supplements improved the fertility of malnourished male mice. The birth weight of their offspring was much healthier, and they showed normal gene expression and healthier levels of the same metabolic markers.

“While much of the previous research has considered the impact of overweight or obese fathers on the health of their children, this is one of the first studies of its kind looking at the potential consequences of undernourished fathers,” says lead author Dr Nicole McPherson of the University of Adelaide’s Robinson Research Institute.

“Undernutrition is a common affliction, affecting hundreds of millions of adults and children the world over. Because of this, some developing countries provide dietary supplements to both pregnant women and children in the hopes of improving long-term health outcomes.

“However, we now know that the parents’ health at the moment of conception is incredibly important. What we’re seeing from our research is that some form of dietary supplementation may also benefit fathers-to-be,” McPherson says.

“The results are very promising, showing that antioxidants and vitamin food supplements have a role to play in reversing ‘paternal programming’ for poor health outcomes, at least in the case of under­nourished fathers,” McPherson says. “We hope that these findings could eventually be translated into interventions to help reduce the health burden of undernutrition to the world.”