Junk Spunk: Fathers & Fetal Health

I have an interesting new story–if I do say so myself–in the upcoming issue of Miller-McCune. (It’s my first cover story!)

It’s about an issue that I’ve been following for several years now: namely, the accumulating evidence that men’s lifestyles–what they eat (or don’t) and drink, what medications they take, where they work, and more–can affect the health of their future children. In short, it seems that all sorts of environmental and chemical exposures can alter men’s sperm in ways that could cause them to father children with birth defects, metabolic problems, and even an increased risk of cancer. As I write:

Over the last half-century, as scientists learned more and more about how women could safeguard their developing fetuses — skip the vodka, take your folate — few researchers even considered the possibility that men played a role in prenatal health. It would turn out to be a scientific oversight of significant proportions. A critical mass of research now demonstrates that environmental exposures — from paints to pesticides — can cause men to father children with all sorts of abnormalities. Drinking booze, smoking cigarettes, taking prescription medications and even just not eating a balanced diet can influence the health of men’s future kids. In the several decades since [pharmacologist Gladys] Friedler started her work, the idea that chemicals in a man’s environment can influence the health of his future children has, she says, “moved from lunatic fringe to cutting edge.”

So why don’t we ever hear about it?

From my perspective, it’s one of the most important overlooked public health issues of the day. What really got me fired up is that scientists have known about some of these effects for decades. Decades. But because there was no obvious mechanism to explain the phenomena–the field of epigenetics, devoted to understanding the way that DNA expression can be modified by the environments in which we live, hadn’t yet been born–they were simply written off. And even now, when we can explain several ways in which men’s chemical exposures might affect the health of their unborn children, the idea seems to have made little public health impact. How many of you men out there have ever been told by a doctor that you might want to cut back on drinking, smoking, and certain medications if you’re trying to have a child?

In any case, I’m immensely proud of this story, and I think that the research many of these scientists are doing deserves to reach a wider audience. Check out the full story online or in the January/February issue of Miller-McCune.

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The Junk Spunk: Fathers & Fetal Health by Wonderland, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.

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3 Responses to Junk Spunk: Fathers & Fetal Health

  1. Anne says:

    Wow, this is the first I’ve heard of any of this evidence. Thank you!

  2. Travis says:

    Fantastic article, and very relevant to some work I’m doing at the moment! I notice that they’ve included links to wikipedia for some terms like epigenetics, but no links to the specific studies you’re discussing. Any idea on how to convince magazines to include links to original research? It seems like it can only enhance the utility of the article (not to mention saving time for the reader who wants to see the evidence for themselves).

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