Monday, December 23, 2013

Can a Father's Diet Affect His Newborn's Health?

Can a Father's Diet Affect His Newborn's Health?
Fathers, like mothers, might need to watch their folic acid levels.
We've known for a long time that women who do not get enough folic acid in their diets from the very first weeks of pregnancy are at increased risk of having children with birth defects of the brain and spine, including spina bifida.

Now, however, comes the surprising news that low folic acid levels in fathers can also increase the risk. This isn't actually new; the link has been known for a while. But it's been hard to understand how this could work.
Mothers provide the environment for the developing fetus, including not only the roof over its head, so to speak, but the complex bath of chemicals in which it swims during pregnancy. It makes sense that altering that chemical soup—with a deficiency of folic acid, for example—would have consequences for the fetus. But the father's only direct connection with the fetus is a single tiny sperm cell. How could his diet have anything to do with the fetus?

In a new study in the journal Nature Communications, researchers at McGill University in Montreal say they've found a possible explanation. Diet can't alter the DNA in the sperm, but it can alter something else, leaving a telltale signature that can disrupt proceedings weeks later in the womb.

A man's diet, it turns out, alters the epigenetics of his sperm. The genes in the sperm carry all the hereditary characteristics that we're familiar with—eye color, height, and so forth. But the proper operation of those genes requires that they be turned on or off appropriately. Epigenetic markings are small molecules that can attach to genes and control whether or not they are turned on.

The McGill researchers now suggest that the link between fathers' folic acid levels and their children's risk of birth defects might be a consequence of diet altering these epigenetic markings in his sperm.

Does this mean men contemplating having children should take folic acid supplements? There’s no way yet to know. Researchers must do more work to establish with certainty what is going on, and at this point they have no way of predicting how much folic acid is enough to reduce the risk—if, indeed, further studies prove that the risk is real.

Nevertheless, the study is yet one more examples of how important fathers are in the lives of their children--often in ways, such as this, that no one could have predicted. This one came out too late for inclusion in my book Do Fathers Matter? What Science is Telling Us About the Parent We’ve Overlooked, (due out for Fathers Day, 2014), but you will see many similar studies there, including a more complete explanation of epigenetics and its role in many aspects of children’s health.

This is perhaps one of the most exciting new areas of research regarding fathers, and I’m following it closely and will be blogging on it here in the weeks and months to come.

CDC report shows danger at Camp Lejeune

The horror of Camp Lejeune, already one of the worst cases of drinking water contamination in American history, continues to grow. So does the shame of the U.S. Marine Corps.

Last week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed a long-suspected link between toxic chemicals in drinking water at the base and an increased risk of birth defects and childhood cancer.
The contamination stretches back decades, with exposure ending in 1987, when the Marine Corps closed the last of contaminated wells at the base.

Based on a survey of the parents of more than 12,000 children born at Lejeune between 1968 and 1985, the CDC concluded that pregnant women who drank tap water at the base were four times more likely to have babies with serious birth defects such as spina bifida. The study also found a slightly elevated risk for childhood cancers such as leukemia.

The study is limited in its findings. Researchers told The Associated Press that they were able to confirm only 52 cases of specific illnesses related to chemical exposure at Lejeune based on medical records. The cause can't be definitely shown for other birth defects and cancer diagnoses.

But the CDC study is the latest evidence of widespread health problems linked to leaks from a fuel depot at the base and a dry cleaner outside the base.

Although some of the contaminants were addressed in federal regulations dating to 1963, the Marine Corps repeatedly downplayed health problems at Lejeune over the years and didn't take action until 1985.

By that time, an estimated 1 million Marines and their families had been exposed.

Last year, President Barack Obama signed legislation expanding health care resources for those individuals. (Information on compensation claims for Lejeune veterans and their families can be found at the Department of Veterans Affairs website at

The compensation covers 15 health problems, including multiple forms of cancer. More than 80 men with connections to Lejeune have been diagnosed with a rare form of breast cancer.

For the Marine Corps and the VA, the mission remains much as it was before last week's news. They need to expedite claims and continue reaching out to veterans and their families and to any civilians who may have been exposed to carcinogens at the base.

Research also should continue on the extent of contamination. Among other things, the government needs to delve deeper into reports of problems related to storage of DDT and other insecticides in a building later used as a day care.

The government also must explore further when the contamination began. The legislation covers exposure beginning in 1957, but some research indicates at least one carcinogen may have been present as early as 1948.

Last week's CDC report was difficult but welcome news for Lejeune veterans and family members who've fought many years for answers.

The Marine Corps, the VA, the president and Congress need to continue working to address those concerns.

The loss of human life and the suffering cannot be reversed. But the Marine Corps can ensure it doesn't leave behind the men and women whose health was damaged at Lejeune.

Birth Defects Linked To Contaminated Marine Base Water

Birth Defects Linked To Contaminated Marine Base Water

By Sara Jerome
Contaminated water at a U.S. Marine Corps base in North Carolina may be a cause of neural tube defects (NTDs) in some children, according to a long-awaited study.

The study from the Centers for Disease Control found "associations between TCE and benzene in Camp Lejeune drinking water and NTDs," the report said.

Survey participants reported "35 NTDs, 42 oral clefts, and 29 childhood hematopoietic cancers," the study said. CDC "made extensive efforts to obtain medical information from health providers to confirm reported cases.  ATSDR was able to confirm 15 NTDs, 24 oral clefts, and 13 cancers."

The effects were observed "in children born from 1968 to 1985 whose mothers were exposed to contaminated drinking water in their residences at Camp Lejeune."

The study also observed "weaker associations" between "first trimester exposure to PCE, vinyl chloride, and 1,2- DCE," and childhood hematopoietic cancers such as leukemia.

According to the Associated Press, "a prior CDC study cited a February 1985 level for trichloroethylene of 18,900 parts per billion in one Lejeune drinking water well — nearly 4,000 times today's maximum allowed health limit of 5 ppb. Testing also found high levels of benzene, a fuel additive."

The contamination was caused by "a leaky on-base fuel depot and an off-base dry cleaner," the report said.
In the nearly 30 years since the contamination was first publicly disclosed, "military officials have repeatedly issued public statements downplaying health risks from drinking the tainted water prior to the closure of the most contaminated wells," the AP said.

The base kept using the wells for years even after tainted water was discovered, the AP reported. "The most highly contaminated wells were closed in 1984 and 1985, after a round of more extensive testing found dangerous concentrations of toxins associated with degreasing solvents and gasoline."

Lejeune spokeswoman Captain Maureen Krebs said in a statement published by Reuters that the Marine Corps has supported attempts to study the effects of the tainted water.

"These results provide additional information in support of ongoing efforts to provide comprehensive science-based answers to the health questions that have been raised," she said.

A law passed last year attempted to help those affected by the water. The law provides "medical care to former Marines and their dependents who were exposed to the contaminated wells between 1957 and 1987. The law covers 15 conditions including miscarriage, female infertility, leukemia, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and several other forms of cancer," an editorial in Star News Online said.

People With Spinal Cord Injuries Prone To Premature Death: WHO Report

People With Spinal Cord Injuries Prone To Premature Death: WHO Report

12/3/2013 6:13 AM ET 
People with spinal cord injuries are two to five times more likely to die prematurely, with worse survival rates in low- and middle-income countries, says a new report by the World Health Organization (WHO).
As many as 500,000 people suffer a spinal cord injury each year, it is estimated. 

The report, titled "International perspectives on spinal cord injury," summarizes the best available evidence on the causes, prevention, care and lived experience of people with spinal cord injury.

The report was developed in association with the International Spinal Cord Society and Swiss Paraplegic Research, and launched on the occasion of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, which falls on December 3.

Males are most at risk of spinal cord injury between the ages of 20-29 years and 70 years and older, while females are most at risk between the ages of 15-19 years and 60 years and older. Studies report male to female ratios of at least 2:1 among adults.

Up to 90 percent of spinal cord injury cases are due to traumatic causes such as road traffic crashes, falls and violence. Variations exist across regions. For example, road accidents are the main contributor to spinal cord injury in the African Region (nearly 70 percent of cases) and the Western Pacific Region (55 percent of cases) and falls the leading cause in the South-East Asia and Eastern Mediterranean Regions (40 percent of cases). Non-traumatic spinal cord injury results from conditions such as tumors, spina bifida, and tuberculosis. A third of non-traumatic spinal cord injury is linked to tuberculosis in sub-Saharan Africa.

Most people with spinal cord injury experience chronic pain, and an estimated 20-30 percent show clinically significant signs of depression. People with spinal cord injury also risk developing secondary conditions that can be debilitating and even life-threatening, such as deep vein thrombosis, urinary tract infections, pressure ulcers and respiratory complications.
Spinal cord injury is associated with lower rates of school enrollment and economic participation. Children with spinal cord injury are less likely than their peers to start school, and once enrolled, less likely to advance. Adults with spinal cord injury face similar barriers to socio-economic participation, with a global unemployment rate of more than 60 percent. Spinal cord injury carries substantial individual and societal costs.

Many of the consequences associated with spinal cord injury do not result from the condition itself, but from inadequate medical care and rehabilitation services, and from barriers in the physical, social and policy environments that exclude people with spinal cord injury from participation in their communities. Full Implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is urgently required to address these gaps and barriers.

"Spinal cord injury is a medically complex and life-disrupting condition," notes Dr. Etienne Krug, Director of WHO's Department of Violence and Injury Prevention and Disability. "However, spinal cord injury is preventable, survivable, and need not preclude good health and social inclusion," according to him.
Essential measures for improving the survival, health and participation of people with spinal cord injury are detailed in the report. 

by RTT Staff Writer