Folate Supplements: For Future Moms and Dads
A new study conducted on mice suggests that a father’s folate levels may be just as important as the mother’s to the health and development of their offspring. These findings show that folate supplements are essential to adults, male and female, of child bearing age.
A research team led by associate professor of reproductive biology Sarah Kimmins at McGill University in Montreal has discovered that increased folate consumption by male mice prior to conception is directly linked to improved health in the offspring. The results of this study indicate that sperm act as a sort of memory bank for storing and passing on the father’s diet and lifestyle choices to his children.
The researchers examined male mice who consumed diets with adequate levels of folate with male mice who were deficient in the nutrient. They discovered a significant increase in a variety of birth defects in the offspring of the males who were deficient.
Dr. Romain Lambrot, one of the study researchers, said, “We were very surprised to see that there was an almost 30 percent increase in birth defects in the litters sired by fathers whose levels of folates were insufficient.” The defects included a number of serious skeletal, craniofacial and spinal deformities. These findings suggest that men hoping to become fathers should consider taking folate supplements in the weeks leading to conception.
Pregnant women and those who could become pregnant have long been advised to take a prenatal vitamin with folate supplements in order to protect their children against serious health problems, including miscarriage and birth defects. While folate deficiency is already known to lower male fertility, the potential impact of a father’s diet on his offspring has received very little attention to date.
It has long been known that pregnant women who take prenatal vitamins containing folate supplements can reduce the risk of miscarriage and birth defects and most vitamins contain folate, especially those formulated for women. Many processed foods are also fortified with folate.
Folate is the common name for vitamin B9. Folate is a water soluble vitamin that naturally occurs in leafy green vegetables, cereal grains, beans, liver, and many fruits. Folic acid, on the other hand, is a synthetically produced version of folate that is used to fortify many processed foods and is used in supplements. Folic acid is more readily absorbed by the body than folate, but it must then be converted to folate before it can be used.
The function of folate is to transport carbon atoms with attached hydrogen and oxygen atoms between chemical compounds. This make folate a vital component in many cell functions. Folate also helps create, protect, and repair DNA, the part of the cell that carries instructions for all of the body’s functions.
Kimmins explains that many people such as those in northern Canada are still deficient in folate. This new study indicates that men who may become fathers should also pay attention to their diets and other lifestyle choices as their partners before they conceive a child. She is particularly concerned about men who consume fast food diets that are high in fat as well as those who are obese, as they may not be able to absorb or metabolize folate as men with healthier diets.
Kimmins explains that the results indicate men who may become fathers should be conscientious about what their lifestyle choices, especially in regards to what they eat and drink, as their health directly influences the health of their childre.
“If all goes as we hope, our next step will be to work with collaborators at a fertility clinic so that we can start assessing the links in men between diet, being overweight and how this information relates to the health of their children.”
Kimmins also explained, “Despite the fact that folic acid is now added to a variety of foods, fathers who are eating high-fat, fast food diets or who are obese may not be able to use or metabolize folate in the same way as those with adequate levels of the vitamin,”
The researchers came to the conclusion that “adequate paternal dietary folate is essential for offspring health”. The results of the study suggest that folate in the father’s diet plays a key role in epigenetics, a term which essentially means “above” or “on top of” genetics. Epigenetics are external factors that turn genes on or off without actually changing the genetic sequence. Basically, they influence how the genes are decoded in the cells. DNA methylation would be an example of an epigenetic change. In this instance, a methyl group is added to part of a DNA molecule as a kind of chemical cap that prevents the expression of certain genes.
Source: Found in Nature Communications, 2013