As Father’s Day approaches, there’s never been a better time to shine the spotlight on a father’s health. This week’s Nutrition News looks at a number of recently published studies, including one that explores the importance of a father’s diet even before the birth of his children.

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Father’s diet could influence offspring health

With Father’s Day approaching in the UK, it seems an appropriate time to look at men’s health and, more specifically, the role of a father’s health on their offspring. Dr. Raffaele Teperino, leading the "Environmental Epigenetics" research group at Helmholtz Munich, has conducted pivotal research on how paternal diet influences children's health, particularly before conception. His team studied small RNA molecules in sperm, known as mitochondrial tRNA fragments (mt-tsRNAs), which play a crucial role in the inheritance of health traits by regulating gene expression.

The study, reported in the article “Father's diet before conception influences children's health” utilised data from the LIFE Child cohort, encompassing over 3,000 families. Findings revealed that the father's body weight significantly affects the weight and metabolic disease susceptibility of the children, independent of maternal weight, parental genetics, or environmental conditions.

To validate these findings, the researchers conducted experiments with subjects fed a high-fat diet. This diet impacted the reproductive organs, particularly the epididymis, where sperm mature. "Our study shows that sperm exposed to a high-fat diet in the mouse epididymis led to offspring with an increased tendency to metabolic diseases," stated Teperino.

Further laboratory studies deepened these insights. Using in-vitro fertilisation, the team observed that embryos created with sperm from high-fat diet subject contained mt-tsRNAs, which significantly influenced gene expression, thereby affecting the offspring's development and health.

"Our hypothesis that acquired phenotypes, such as diabetes and obesity, are transmitted via epigenetic mechanisms across generations is reinforced by this study," explained Prof. Martin Hrabě de Angelis, co-author and Research Director at Helmholtz Munich. The study underscores that epigenetics serves as a molecular link between the environment and the genome, affecting both maternal and paternal lines.

The research emphasises the importance of paternal health before conception, suggesting new conception support approaches. "Our results suggest that preventive health care for men wishing to become fathers should receive more attention, especially regarding diet," said Teperino. This proactive approach can reduce the risk of diseases like obesity and diabetes in children.

Choline for heart health

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, primarily due to atherosclerosis, which is the buildup of plaque in the heart and vascular system. While traditional risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome are well-known, the role of specific dietary components in atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease is less clear.

Choline, an essential nutrient found in both animal and plant-based foods, is gaining attention for its potential heart health benefits, although its role in atherosclerosis remains debated.

A new observational study, discussed in the article “Eating more choline may help lower heart disease risk”, aimed to clarify the link between choline intake and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease in U.S. adults. The study also examined how choline affects metabolic syndrome and its risk factors, which contribute to atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease. Results showed that moderate choline intake was associated with a lower risk of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, but there was no significant association between choline intake and metabolic syndrome.

This cross-sectional study examined data from 5,525 American adults aged 20 years and older, collected through the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) between 2011 and 2018. The researchers found that choline intake in the third quartile was potentially linked to lower odds of congestive heart failure and stroke. However, consuming more than 342 milligrams per day seemed to slightly increase the risk of heart failure, though it didn’t notably affect stroke risk.

Despite mixed study results, experts recognise the potential for adequate choline intake to support heart health and the body generally. The study’s limitations include its observational nature, reliance on dietary questionnaires, and lack of plasma TMAO data. Prospective, controlled trials with better determination of dietary choline intake and analysis of disease outcomes with more specific definitions of cardiac disease states are needed.

In conclusion, a balanced diet that includes choline-rich foods, such as eggs, fish, dairy products, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and cruciferous vegetables, may help support heart health. Combining a heart-healthy diet with regular exercise, avoiding smoking, and managing cholesterol and triglyceride levels is essential for optimal cardiovascular health.

Astaxanthin for cognitive health

Oxidative stress is a key factor in neurodegeneration, cognitive aging, and cognitive decline. It also impacts other areas such as inflammation, skin health, eye health, and overall recovery. Antioxidants, known for countering oxidative stress, have shown significant benefits in these areas. Astaxanthin, a potent antioxidant, has demonstrated promising effects on cognitive health in both in vitro and in vivo studies. Given these encouraging results, recent research, reported in the article “Review outlines astaxanthin's cognitive health benefits” has extended to examining astaxanthin's impact on human tissue and populations, aiming to explore its therapeutic potential.

This critical review evaluates the effects of astaxanthin on cognitive function and neurodegeneration within human populations. The findings indicate that astaxanthin positively impacts cognitive function, offers neuroprotection, and slows neurodegeneration. Dietary antioxidants, including ascorbic acid (vitamin C), α-tocopherol (vitamin E), polyphenols, selenium, and carotenoids, play a crucial role in mitigating the adverse effects of reactive nitrogen and oxygen species, which contribute to oxidative stress and cognitive decline.

Common dietary sources of antioxidants include fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Supplements also provide a valuable source of antioxidants, particularly for individuals who may not get enough from their diet.

Astaxanthin, one of the most potent carotenoids, stands out for its superior radical absorbance capability compared to other antioxidants, such as α-tocopherol. It is abundant in crustaceans and salmonid aquaculture, contributing to the pink coloration of salmon, shrimp, and lobster. Natural sources of astaxanthin include red yeast, Phaffia rhodozyma, shrimp, salmon, and certain green algae.

Astaxanthin's specific properties enable it to maintain cell membrane integrity, improve gene expression, and support immune system functioning by managing lipid peroxidation, neutralising reactive oxygen species, and scavenging free radicals. Its primary benefit lies in reducing oxidative stress, both in vitro and in vivo. This reduction is facilitated by astaxanthin's interaction with the phosphoinositide 3-kinase/protein kinase B pathway, aiding in dissociating NRf2 from KEAP1.

Recent human studies highlight astaxanthin's potential in enhancing cognitive function and protecting against neurodegeneration. While more research is needed to fully substantiate these effects, the current findings support the promise of astaxanthin for supporting cognitive health and reducing the risk neurodegenerative diseases.

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Alison Astill-Smith author Alison is the Founder of Metabolics who writes about Metabolics updates, events and natural healthcare. Her experience and passion for natural supplements and healthcare comes from her years of experience as a practising osteopath, having founded Metabolics in her search for high quality, natural products in her own work. Alison has been a qualified and practising Osteopath since 1981 and regularly gives seminars on a range of healthcare subjects to the wider practitioner community helping share her knowledge and experience.