WELLNESS
07/10/2013 08:08 am ET

Dad's Lifestyle Choices Can Affect Future Children

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A dad's lifestyle choices could have an impact on his future children's DNA, according to a new study.

Researchers from Maastricht University in the Netherlands found that gene mutations that are spurred by unhealthy lifestyle choices can be passed on from the dad to his offspring -- even if those gene mutations happened before the offspring were conceived.

"We've known for a very long time that preventive care among expectant mothers is critical to the health and well-being of their children," Dr. Gerald Weissmann, M.D., who is the editor-in-chief of The FASEB Journal, where the study is published, said in a statement. "Now, we're learning that fathers don't get a free pass. How they take care of themselves -- even before conception -- affects the genetic makeup of their children, for better or worse."

For the study, researchers looked at mother-father-child groups who were part of the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study. Researchers split the groups into those with high incomes and those with low incomes. (The researchers said they did this because income levels tended to parse out differences in lifestyle choices. For instance, men in the lower income group were more likely to smoke.)

They found more DNA mutations in the offspring of the men in the lower income group, particularly when looking at cigarette smoking behavior of the fathers.

"Income was inversely related to smoking behavior, and paternally derived CEB1 mutations were dose dependently increased when the father smoked in the [six months] before pregnancy," researchers wrote in the study. "These results suggest that paternal lifestyle can affect the chance of heritable mutations in unstable repetitive DNA sequences."

The findings come on the heels of a study in mice, from University of Pennsylvania researchers, showing that dad's chronic stress could affect his offspring's stress response through epigenetic changes to his sperm.

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