Sins of the Father

What your father ate affects your metabolism; holds implications for diabetes, heart disease risks

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Dad's penchant for pork roast or hankering for hash browns may have an effect on your metabolism. Talk about paying for your father's sins.

That's because you are what you eat -- and what your father ate, too, according to a new study from the University of Massachusetts Medical School and University of Texas, which found that mice sired by fathers who feasted on a low-protein diet show distinct, reproducible changes in metabolic gene activity in their livers.

We are more than just our genes, said Oliver Rando of University of Massachusetts Medical School, who emphasized there are numerous ways our parents can "tell" us things.

Prior studies, for instance, have shown that if your paternal grandfather went hungry, chances are greater you'll become obese and/or develop heart disease. Another study this year indicated fathers on a high-fat diet can pass health problems to daughters.

In this new study, researchers tested the transgenerational effects of environmental conditions by screening gene activity in mice whose fathers were fed a low-protein diet from the time they were weaned until sexual maturity. Two groups of male mice were fed different diets with the first receiving a standard diet, while the second received a low-protein diet. All female mice ate a standard diet.

Hundreds of genes changed in the protein-starved males' offspring. The mice's livers revealed numerous differences depending on paternal diet.

Among these differences: a chemical modification of a DNA sequence thought to enhance the key lipid transcription factor known as Ppara. Those changes were linked to lower activity of Ppara.

When parents go hungry, Rando said, it's best for offspring to hoard calories. He noted Ppara's role in controlling cholesterol and lipid synthesis in the liver, but said he isn't sure yet whether the changes in cholesterol metabolism will prove beneficial in the context of a low-protein diet.

Rando said the study calls for the need to rethink how we looks at complex diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and alcoholism, adding that future environmental-exposure histories should also include parental-exposure histories.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
December 27, 2010
Last Updated:
December 30, 2010