While mother's diet and its impact on children has been widely researched, a team from Melbourne-based RMIT University has revealed that a father's diet before they conceive could be genetically passed onto the children, with a subsequent impact on those children's mental health.
This is believed to be the first time the behavioral and hormonal effects of the male diet on offspring has been studied.
‘A father's diet before they conceive could be genetically passed onto the children, with a subsequent impact on the children's mental health. This makes it important for both mothers and fathers to consider their environment and things such as diet, alcohol consumption and smoking, before conceiving.’
For the study, lead researcher and professor Antonio Paolini allowed male rats to eat abundant amounts of food and compared them to those with access to 25% fewer calories in their diet.
Paolini said, "Even though the fathers had no contact with their offspring and the mother's behavior remained relatively unchanged, the offspring of the food-limited rats were lighter, ate less and showed less evidence of anxiety."
The differences appeared to be 'epigenetic', meaning the younger rats' genes functioned differently as a result of their fathers' experience.
Paolini said, "The results suggest that the diet of one generation may affect the next."
Reduced calories may sharpen survival instincts, making animals less anxious and more adventurous in the way they explore their environment.
The environmental factors could also have an effect on sperm production in men in the days leading up to conception, posing an additional risk to the health of their children.
The authors noted, "This makes it important for both mothers and fathers to consider their environment and things such as diet, alcohol consumption and smoking, before conceiving."
The research will be published in Psychoneuroendocrinology.