The Importance of Paternal Health

Risa Groux, CN
 | Published: 
October 11, 2021

Was your grandfather a wise “early to bed early to rise" man or was he an outlier,you know one of those guys who smoked like a chimney drank like a fish and passes away in his sleep with a smile on his face at 98 years old? Whatever your grandpa's lifestyle his health may have had influences on your own wellbeing that you are still feeling today. We know for sure that a woman's health before and during pregnancy has a powerful influence on the health of her children not only in their earliest days but throughout their entire lives. From a poor diet to inadequate sleep to exposure to stress hormones in utero a woman's physiological and psychological states can have profound effects on the lifelong wellbeing of her children. But what about a man's health? Can a father's health affect his children too?

Considering fathers provide half the genetic material for their offspring it stands to reason that a man's health would have an influence on that of his children (and subsequent generations). And yet can one cell,a teeny tiny single sperm cell which is but a fraction of the size of an egg,still induce effects while a developing baby spends nine months quite literally “marinating" in the nutrition and hormones provided by its mother? A 2015 study suggests yes it can.

The study which was conducted on mice indicates that paternal cellular material,specifically histone proteins,affects development and subsequent health of offspring for at least two generations. So for a glimpse at your health history looking to your father is helpful but don't forget about your grandfathers. Histones do not contain genetic information but they are a crucial structural factor for the proper organization of DNA inside cell nuclei. (And it's the DNA that contains the genetic code.) Biochemical processes involving histones help regulate gene expression and influence cellular development and differentiation. (If DNA is the musicians in an orchestra then think of histones as the conductor.) Irregularities with histone proteins have been linked to a wide array of health issues such as various cancers and a host of neurodegenerative conditions including Huntington's disease Alzheimer's disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

Coming at this from another angle there are other effects imparted by paternal health upon offspring. A Danish study found that children born to older fathers had an increased risk of schizophrenia mental retardation and autism spectrum disorders. Other studies support this potential link between paternal age autism spectrum disorders and other psycho-social conditions in male children as well as increased risk for neurocognitive developmental delays. Children of older fathers,40 years old and above,have an increased risk of dying during their first five years of life with the highest risk of death found among children whose fathers were 45 years or older. It has long been recognized that maternal age is a powerful influence on the development and health of offspring but it's becoming increasingly recognized that “men of a certain age" may want to take these issues into account too.

Maternal diet is of course a profound factor on the development and lifelong health of a child. But fathers aren't off the hook where nutrition is concerned. Paternal obesity can have detrimental effects on offspring via epigenetic changes to sperm. Fortunately evidence suggests that interventions intended to reverse obesity and improve metabolic health prior to conception may normalize detrimental changes to sperm resulting in better metabolic health in offspring. English translation: it's great for men to get healthy after their children are born in order to be around to watch them grow up and experience the beautiful moments in life but it's even better if they can get healthy before starting a family because fathers have more influence on developing babies than was previously thought.

Bottom line: Just because babies spend nine months inside their mothers doesn't absolve fathers of their responsibility to be healthy and well-nourished prior to conception.


  1. Siklenka K et al. Disruption of histone methylation in developing sperm impairs offspring health transgenerationally. Science. 2015 Oct 8.
  2. Langley B Gensert JM Beal MF Ratan RR. Remodeling chromatin and stress resistance in the central nervous system: histone deacetylase inhibitors as novel and broadly effective neuroprotective agents. Curr Drug Targets CNS Neurol Disord. 2005 Feb;4(1):41-50.
  3. McGrath JJ et al. A comprehensive assessment of parental age and psychiatric disorders. JAMA Psychiatry. 2014 Mar;71(3):301-9.
  4. Urhoj SK Jespersen LN Nissen M Mortensen LH Nybo Andersen AM. Advanced paternal age and mortality of offspring under 5 years of age: a register-based cohort study. Hum Reprod. 2014 Feb;29(2):343-50.
  5. McPherson NO1 Fullston T Aitken RJ Lane M. Paternal obesity interventions and mechanistic pathways to impaired health in offspring. Ann Nutr Metab. 2014;64(3-4):231-8.

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