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An interesting article published in Nature this week looked at how the role of diet in males affects the health of their daughters. In particular it looked at how male obesity can predispose to one’s offspring’s likelihood of developing diabetes.

What has this got to do with brain health? Well a lot, because obesity and diabetes are both risk factors for cognitive impairment and dementia.
The incidence of both obesity and type 2 diabetes is increasing at an alarming rate in western society. This study is a warning that not only are we harming ourselves, we are also harming our children.

Keeping things in perspective, firstly this is a study that was done on rats not humans, so we can’t say for definite that this would apply to us. But the suggestion is strong. Secondly because this was a study, the male rats were fed a high fat diet over a specified amount of time. Again from a human perspective, we don’t know whether these outcomes would follow on from a lifetime of poor eating habits or whether even short-term poor food choices around the time of conception could be important.

The study poses some interesting questions and may lead to a better understanding of what causes type-two diabetes.

Previous studies have looked at the effect of maternal diet and obesity on their offspring. Now it looks as if Dads too may need to be mindful of the impact that their lifestyle choices could have on their children.

Professor Margaret Morris researcher in Obesity and Diabetes at the University of new South Wales Sydney led this study. Her findings suggest that epigenetic alterations to our genes can lead to changes that are then expressed in our children.

In this study one group of male rats were fed a high fat diet. A control group received a normal diet. The high fat group became obese and developed signs of insulin resistance which is a precursor to diabetes. They were then mated with healthy weight female rats. The daughters of the fat group were found to have changes in their pancreas gland (where insulin hormone is produced) that were likely to produce problems with sugar regulation. These changes were not found in the daughters of the control group.

Professor Morris commented that today many mothers are entering pregnancy either overweight or obese and similarly it is likely that many obese men will father children.

My take on this from a healthy brain perspective is that while we can’t change our genes or prevent ageing to protect our brains, we can change our lifestyle and environment.
By choosing to keep to a healthy weight and avoiding type 2 diabetes we are not only contributing to our own health and brain fitness it would appear we are also protecting the health and brains of our children.
And Dads, it looks as if it’s up to you as well.

· Ng, S-F . et al. Nature 467, 963-966 (2010).
· Wang, Y. & Lobstein, T. Int. J. Pediatr. Obes. 1, 11-25 (2006).
· Morris, M. J. Expert Rev. Endocrinol. Metab. 4, 625-637 (2009).

Dr Jenny Brockis

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and internationally board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, workplace health and wellbeing consultant, keynote speaker and best-selling author. You can now pre-order her new book ‘The Natural Advantage’ due for publication in October 2024.

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