Parental influence starts before conception

Last Updated: Sunday, August 17, 2014 - 18:47

Zee Media Bureau

Melbourne: Scientists say, kids born to unhealthy parents are already pre-programmed for greater risk of poor health, with higher odds of developing metabolic diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

The environmental factors prior to conception have more influence on the child's future than previously thought, researchers said at the University of Adelaide.

Professor Sarah Robertson, corresponding author and Director of the University's Robinson Research Institute says that this is a new frontier for reproductive and developmental research.

Parental influences on a child begin before conception, because stored environmental factors in the egg and sperm are contributing more than just genetic material to the child, as concluded in the research.

Robertson said that many things that we do in the lead up to conceiving is having an impact on the future development of the child. From the age of the parents, to poor diet, obesity, smoking and many other factors, all of which influence environmental signals that are transmitted into the embryo.

"People used to think that it didn't matter, because a child represented a new beginning, with a fresh start. The reality is, we can now say with great certainty that the child doesn't quite start from scratch - they already carry over a legacy of factors from their parents' experiences that can shape development in the foetus and after birth. Depending on the situation, we can give our children a burden before they've even started life," said Robertson.

This is a higher risk of metabolic diseases, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The likelihood of conditions like anxiety and immune dysfunction can also be affected.

Current research also shows that the fathers have a much greater role to play in this than previously thought, says Robertson.

"A few lifestyle changes by potential parents and improvements in the right direction, especially in the months leading up to conception, could have a lasting, positive benefit for the future of their child," Robertson said.

The research was published in the journal Science.

First Published: Sunday, August 17, 2014 - 18:46

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