By Sola Ogundipe
Men and women who drink alcohol need to read this. New research suggests that binge drinking earlier in life could compromise the health of your future children. The finding adds to current research on how parents’ lifestyles can influence the health of their future children.
When it comes to the health of children, mother and father play an equal role. Although we may put a lot of emphasis on how a mother’s lifestyle choices can affect the health of her future children, a father’s age and lifestyle is just as important.
A man or woman’s lifestyle can have significant effect on the health of their future offspring. For instance, researchers say lifestyle can cause epigenetic changes in a man’s sperm’s DNA that could eventually affect his offspring’s genome.
Mothers should note that drinking while pregnant can harm an unborn child, but new research suggests that alcohol abuse before pregnancy can also hurt a child’s health. This risk remains even if she abstains throughout the entire period of conception and pregnancy.
In a study, presented at the Endocrine Society’s 99th annual meeting in Orlando, Florida, researchers from Rutgers University revealed that mice who were subjected to binge drinking habits similar to those practiced by humans gave birth to offspring with high blood sugar and other changes in glucose function.
The researchers suggested that, if the same holds true for humans, binge drinking before pregnancy may increase a child’s risk of developing diabetes as an adult.
According to Dipak Sarkar the lead investigator, the effects of alcohol use during pregnancy on an unborn child are well known, including possible birth defects and learning and behavior problems. However, it is not known whether a mother’s alcohol use before conception also could have negative effects on her child’s health and disease susceptibility during adulthood.
For the study, the team had rats binge drink for four weeks by giving them a diet that was 6.7 percent alcohol. This was enough to raise their blood alcohol levels to those of binge drinking humans. The rats were then taken off this diet for several weeks before they were bred. According to the study, several weeks of alcohol abstinence for the rats was equivalent to several months of abstinence in humans.
Results showed that adult offspring born to female mice that binge drank displayed a number of signs of abnormal glucose function, such as increased blood glucose levels and decreased insulin levels in the blood and pancreatic tissue. While it’s not clear yet if the same results are found in human children born of mothers who binge drank prior to conception, these findings suggest that a mother’s alcohol misuse before conception may be passed on to her offspring, possibly increasing their chances of developing certain diseases, such as diabetes.
It’s not just a mother’s lifestyle choices that could have long-term consequences on offspring; past research has suggested that a father’s lifestyle could also play a role.
Recent study found that alcohol use in fathers was linked to decreased birth weight, reduction in overall brain size, and impaired cognitive function.
This was because an alcoholic lifestyle lead to epigenetic changes in sperm’s DNA that could be passed on for several generations. In addition to this, the research also suggested that alcohol abuse in fathers could influence gene expression for organ structure in their offspring, a factor that would contribute to a number of health problems such as fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.
So if you are an alcoholic, you could unknowingly influence the organ structure and gene expression in your children, causing significant health problems such as fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD).
This is a serious health condition that causes significant birth defects and learning difficulties in children, and according to the study, can still be diagnosed in children whose mothers never consumed alcohol during their pregnancy.
Dr. Joanna Kitlinska stated that “Up to 75 percent of children with FASD have biological fathers who are alcoholics, suggesting that preconceptual paternal alcohol consumption negatively impacts their offspring.”
The research was based on epigenetics, a relatively new field of science that explores how lifestyle and environment can change how certain genes in human DNA are expressed. Although our DNA is set in stone, recently researchers have noted that by altering the physical structure of DNA, certain factors can have an effect not only on your health, but also the health of future generations. For example, a study from 2014 found that endurance training can physically change the way our DNA creates skeletal muscle.
In addition to FASD, alcohol use in fathers was linked to decreased birth weight, marked reduction in overall brain size, and impaired cognitive function.
The study also revealed that factors such as a father’s age, diet, and stress level could all have effects on the eventual health of his children. For example, paternal obesity was linked to enlarged fat cells in the offspring, changes in metabolic regulation, diabetes, obesity, and even the development of brain cancer. In addition, past research has shown that traumatic events can alter gene expression as well and experiencing famine can “scar” the DNA of not only the individual but also their future offspring.
The team hopes their findings could help better understanding of what influences the genetics and health of future offspring, and perhaps even be used to help recommend lifestyle alterations for people who wish to be parents. Thankfully, studies have shown that just as poor lifestyle choices can change DNA for the worse, correcting these habits can also reverse the effect.