Insufficient folate in the father's diet increased the risk of birth defects of various kinds in the offspring in mice studies, researchers found. (Agencies)
It is well known that in order to prevent miscarriages and birth defects mothers need to get adequate amounts of folate or vitamin B9 - which is found in a range of green leafy vegetables, cereals, fruit and meats - in their diet.
But the way that a father's diet can influence the health and development of their offspring has received almost no attention.
The research from McGill University in Canada showed for the first time that the father's folate levels may be just as important to the development and health of their offspring as are those of the mother.
The study suggests that fathers should pay as much attention to their lifestyle and diet before they set out to conceive a child as mothers do.
"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," said researcher Sarah Kimmins.
"People who live in the Canadian North or in other parts of the world where there is food insecurity may also be particularly at risk for folate deficiency.
"And we now know that this information will be passed on from the father to the embryo with consequences that may be quite serious," Kimmins said.
The researchers arrived at this conclusion by working with mice, and comparing the offspring of fathers with insufficient folate in their diets with the offspring of fathers whose diets contained sufficient levels of the vitamin.
They found that paternal folate deficiency was associated with an increase in birth defects of various kinds in the offspring, compared to the offspring of mice whose fathers were fed a diet with sufficient folate.
"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," said Dr Romain Lambrot, of McGill's Department of Animal Science, one of the researchers who worked on the study.
"We saw some pretty severe skeletal abnormalities that included both cranio-facial and spinal deformities," Lambrot said.
Insufficient folate in the father's diet increased the risk of birth defects of various kinds in the offspring in mice studies, researchers found.