The study, published in the Journal of Physiology, fed male mice a poor-quality low protein diet – which was found to impair the way blood vessels functioned in their offspring, a key indicator of heart disease.
The research team, led by experts from the University of Nottingham's School of Medicine, noted the growing evidence suggesting maternal diet and well-being at the time of conception can impact offspring development – and may often lead to cardiovascular conditions and metabolic disease in later life. However, they noted that little research has been done into the impact of a father's diet and the effects this can have on the cardiovascular health of his offspring.
"Our findings indicate that a poor quality paternal low-protein diet may have altered the genetic information carried in the sperm or the composition of the seminal plasma,” commented Dr Adam Watkins, lead author of the study. “Our study shows that a father's diet at the time of conception may affect how the blood vessels form, which then leads to permanent changes in how the blood vessels work, resulting in 'programmed cardiovascular ill-health in his offspring.”
"These findings are significant for people's health, as it shows that some conditions are attributed to a disturbance in early development processes which can be affected by a father's diet."
Using a mouse model to explore the long-term cardiovascular health of offspring from males fed a poor quality, low protein diet, the new study aimed to bridges gap in understanding of the impact of paternal diet on offspring health.
Mice were fed a controlled normal protein diet (18% protein) or low protein (9% protein) diet for a minimum of 7 weeks prior to conception.
Results showed that the poor-quality diet may have altered the genetic information carried in the sperm which changed the way blood vessels formed in the developing foetus, and so affected the cardiovascular function in the offspring.
The study also showed that the fluid the sperm are carried in, the seminal plasma, also influenced offspring cardiovascular health. The researchers looked at the effect of low protein diets on both the sperm and seminal fluid of male mice – studying the impact on offspring in four conditions: when the sperm was from a dad with a poor diet, when the seminal fluid was, when both were, and when neither was.
They found that the heart health of offspring was negatively impacted when there was mismatch between the sperm and seminal fluid, meaning that one was from a poor dietary dad and the other from a dad with a normal diet, or vice versa.
Watkins and colleagues noted seminal fluid suppressed maternal uterine inflammatory and immunological responses that are essential for a healthy pregnancy.
"It is important that we understand how and why paternal diet impacts on the offspring, so we can suggest preventative measures for couples who are trying to conceive, such as dietary recommendations,” said Watkins.
Men on crash diets may be affected by the findings, said the team, noting that the quality of seminal fluid changes quickly, while sperm only changes after a few months – meaning that there might be a mismatch in the first few months of a diet, and this time may coincide with when they are trying to conceive.
The findings may have also implications for couples using assistive reproductive technologies such as IVF because IVF uses only the sperm, and this might result in a mismatch between the quality of sperm and seminal fluid, they added.
Source: The Journal of Physiology
Published online, Open Access, doi: 10.1113/JP278270
“Paternal diet impairs F1 and F2 offspring vascular function through sperm and seminal plasma specific mechanisms in mice”
Authors: Hannah L. Morgan, et al