London, April 5 (IANS) If you thought that a child's development is affected only by the mother's diet and lifestyle prior to conception, you may be wrong.
According to a study, excessive consumption of some food supplements such as energy drinks or folic acid pills by the father may affect the cognitive skills of the child -- at least in mice.
In the study, published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, when male rodents were fed methyl donors such as folic acid, methionine and vitamin B12, their offspring did not perform well in learning and memory tests.
The diet influences so-called epigenetic patterns in the genome, and this reprogramming is transferred to some degree to the next generation through the sperm.
This suggests that the intake of high concentrations of such methyl donors could also have side effects in humans, for example if they consume excessive amounts of energy drinks or folic acid pills, the researchers said.
"We were able to show that even a transient change in the paternal diet can cause impaired learning skills in offspring. This affected in particular the ability to properly learn a spatial navigation task," said Dan Ehninger from the German Centre for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE).
Further, in offspring of the male mice fed with methyl donors -- a diet containing high concentrations of methionine, folic acid, vitamin B12, choline, betaine and zinc -- abnormalities were found not only in the animals' behaviour, but also in their brains.
Nerve connections in the hippocampus -- a brain region which is important for memory -- reacted quite sluggishly to electrical stimuli, indicating that their adaptiveness -- the so-called neuronal plasticity -- was impaired in offspring mice.
All this are merely results of animal experiments. However, humans can also be exposed to high doses of methyl donors, Ehninger said.