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Your Children are What YOU Eat

Posted by Christopher A. Brown

You know what a fast-food diet can do to your waistline, not to mention your thighs, buttocks, arms, etc. But did you know that Baconator® from Wendy's could have consequences for your unborn children and grandchildren? It's time to wake up and smell the coffee (er, bacon) when it comes to your diet. What you eat can have either a positive or negative effect on your unborn child or grandchild. 

diet and fatherhood donut cheese burger

Recent ground-breaking research by Dr. Ian Myles, an allergist-immunologist based in Bethesda, MD, and reported in the Nutrition Journal concluded that it's not just moms whose diets affect their unborn children. Dads' diets matter, too. Specifically, parents' diets affect their children's "mircobiome," the plethora of bacteria that live on our skin and in our gut. A diverse and balanced microbiome is critical to a strong immune system. Unfortunately, our Western diet--marked by an imbalance that favors refined grains, sugar, and too much saturated fat--creates a limited and imbalanced microbiome one that makes it more difficult for us to properly digest food (thus taking advantage of the nutrients that might be present but limited) and ward off disease, not to mention how lethargic such a diet can make us.

Worse yet, our poor diet is a bad gift that keeps on giving as the microbiome it creates in parents (or expectant parents) passes directly to their offspring. When it comes to moms, it's easier to see the connection. Dr. Myles says, for example, "When the mother’s diet causes a harmful imbalance of her bacteria, she passes this imbalance on to her child and thus fails to present the ideal commensals for a proper immune education during her child’s most critical developmental window. This developmental dysbiosis leaves the offspring’s immune system poorly trained to fight off infections and encourages autoimmune and allergic diseases." 

While the mechanism for moms' contributions to their offspring's microbiome is easier to get your arms around, you might understandably wonder what's the mechanism that links dads' diets to their offspring's microbiome. It's DNA that wonder of nature that allows two human beings to create another one. Poor diets can negatively affect men's DNA by altering the genes that men eventually pass to their offspring. Those alterations can affect the development of organs some of which (e.g. the pancreas) are vital to a properly functioning immune system. As Dr. Myles says, "Since the information encoded upon DNA is passed from parent-to-child and even potentially from parent-to-grandchild, cells that learn bad habits like ignoring signs of infection or over-reacting to antigens could combine with microbiome shifts to further worsen a child’s immunologic development." 

This research is quite new. The jury is still out on how strong a link there is between dads' diets and the affects on their unborn children. Nevertheless, there is enough evidence to strongly suggest that what you ingest can have far-reaching consequences for your children. It's not enough to understand and act upon the clear evidence on how your diet directly affects you and indirectly affects the children you might now have (e.g. they learn through modeling what to eat). You also must seriously consider acting on the emerging evidence that you can pass along the impact of a poor diet (or a good one) to the very core of your children's being just like your height, eye color, hair color, or any other heritable trait.

How poor or good is your diet? How much do you care about how your diet affects your children or unborn children?


image: iStockPhoto

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