Monthly Archives: May 2017

5 Ways Men Shape Their Children’s Health

15Well_dad-tmagArticle5 Ways Men Shape Their Children’s Health

Women are often told that what they eat, how much they drink and the choices they make can have a big impact on their children’s health and development, even long before they get pregnant. But increasingly, animal and human research is suggesting that a man’s lifestyle (and not just his age) can play a big role in the health of future offspring as well.

Epigenetics—the science of how genes are modified by environment and lifestyle, and how those modifications can be passed to new generations—seem to be responsible for many of these effects, says Joanna Kitlinska, assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular and cellular biology at Georgetown University.

“We are learning that it’s very important for both parents to take good care of themselves before conception,” Kitlinska says. For men specifically, here are a few factors to keep in mind.

Vitamin D levels

Preliminary research presented at the European Congress on Obesity in Portugal found that low vitamin D levels in soon-to-be fathers was associated with low height and weight in their children at age 5. The effect may be temporary—the association was no longer significant when kids were checked again at age 9—but the authors still say the finding justifies more research.

“Father’s nutrition status may somehow influence the health, quality and function of germ cells, which are involved in reproduction,” the researchers from University College Dublin concluded in their presentation. Interestingly, no similar association was found between mothers’ vitamin D levels during pregnancy and kids’ height and weight.


It’s well known that children can develop fetal alcohol syndrome (FASD) if a woman drinks while she’s pregnant. But up to 75% of children with FASD have biological fathers who are alcoholics, according to a 2016 review published in the American Journal of Stem Cells, suggesting that paternal alcohol consumption may also be responsible for the condition.

How much a man drinks may affect his future children’s risk of birth defects, says Kitlinska, who co-authored the review.

Animal research has also suggested that male mice who consume high levels of alcohol may be more likely to have children with low birth weights, impaired cognitive function and a greater susceptibility to alcohol’s effects themselves, even if they’ve sobered up before breeding.

Poor diet and obesity

Men who grow up on restricted, low-calorie diets may pass on some advantages to future generations. In studies on Swedish populations, children and grandchildren of men who had a limited food supply during adolescence (because of poverty and crop failure) were less likely to die from cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Conversely, research also shows that obese fathers are more likely to pass on genes that can raise the risk of obesity, diabetes and brain cancer than men who are normal weight. “How we eat and how much we eat can affect how genes are expressed in our offspring,” says Kitlinska. “It’s kind of nature’s way of preparing children for the environment in which they will be living.”


There’s not a lot of research in humans on paternal stress levels and children’s health, but Kitlinska plans to soon investigate the connection in animals. Previous studies have shown that male mice exposed to stressful environments are subsequently more likely to have offspring with high blood sugar and unhealthy responses to stress themselves.

Smoking and metal fumes

Giving up cigarettes once there’s a new baby in the house is important, but quitting long before that is an even better move. In a 2016 study in the International Journal of Epidemiology, children of men who smoked before their partners got pregnant were three times as likely to have asthma than those whose fathers never smoked.

Dads who smoked before age 15 and those who smoked for the greatest number of years were the most strongly associated with asthma among kids. (No increased risk was seen for children whose mothers smoked prior to conception but not during pregnancy.) Men who were exposed to welding and metal fumes before conception also seemed to pass on an increased risk.

Retrieved from:

No Tobacco Day: Smoking and Pregnancy

Smoking and Pregnancy

When you or the people around you smoke, your baby smokes too.
A smoke-free environment is best for both you and your developing baby.

Little feet Important Facts

When you smoke, your baby gets less oxygen and nutrients

This can cause your baby to grow more slowly and gain less weight in your womb. Babies with a lower-than-average birth weight tend to have more health problems. And the more you smoke, the higher the risk that your baby will have complications during the perinatal period (just before, during and just after birth). This is true for babies exposed to second-hand smoke too.

Cigarette smoking exposes your baby to over 4,000 chemicals found in tobacco smoke

Heart shaped hands on pregant belly

Seventy of these are associated with cancer.

Exposure to tobacco smoke affects your baby for life

Your baby may have learning problems, more ear infections and more colds and breathing problems. Being born small can affect your baby’s health into adulthood.

Smoking during pregnancy will increase the risks to your own health too

For example, you have a greater chance of having a miscarriage than a non-smoker.

Second-hand smoke is just as bad

Second-hand smoke contains the same toxic chemicals and carcinogens that smokers inhale. Children regularly exposed to second-hand smoke are more likely to suffer damage to their lungs and to develop breathing problems such as asthma. When you breathe in second-hand smoke, you have a greater risk of developing lung cancer, heart disease, breathing problems and irritation of the eyes, lungs and throat.

Next Steps

If you are currently smoking, the best step you can take is to quit! Your baby will get more oxygen and nutrients, which will help increase the baby’s birth weight and health. You will lower your blood pressure and heart rate. You can talk to your doctor about ways to quit that are most appropriate while you are pregnant. If you have trouble quitting, ask for help.

Avoid second-hand smoke. Make your home and car smoke-free spaces. Ask your partner, family members and friends not to smoke around you. When you are with people who want to smoke, ask them to smoke outside. Explain to them that you and your baby need smokefree air.

Little feetCommon Questions About Smoking and Pregnancy

I only smoke a few cigarettes a day. Should I still quit?

Yes. All tobacco smoke is bad for both you and your baby. The sooner you quit completely, the better.

Don’t some mothers who smoke while they’re pregnant still have healthy babies?

Smoking during pregnancy is a gamble that puts your child at risk.

Will I gain extra weight if I quit now?

It is possible that if you stop smoking you may eat more to replace your oral habit. Chewing sugar-free gum might help. If you do gain a few pounds, don’t worry. Being physically active and making healthy food choices will help you lose the extra weight after your baby is born. You’ll also feel great knowing you gave your baby the best possible start in life.

Is it okay for me to smoke after the baby is born?

The best choice for you and your baby is to stay smoke-free. If you start smoking again, you are putting your baby at risk from the harmful effects of second-hand smoke and your own health at risk from the effects of smoking. By staying smoke-free you’re protecting both you and your baby from the harmful effects of tobacco smoke.

What can I do to help me quit?

Some people find that picking a quit day helps. On that day, you throw away your cigarettes, lighters, matches and ashtrays. In anticipation of the quit day, you can reduce the number of cigarettes you smoke per day. Set a limit and stick to it. When you feel the urge to smoke, try chewing gum, eating a piece of fruit, calling a friend or going for a walk. Stop-smoking support groups may also help.

Call the pan-Canadian toll-free quitline to talk to a trained cessation specialist. They can help you develop a plan and answer your questions about quitting. The specialist can also provide a choice of services tailored to your needs, including self-help materials, a referral list of programs in your community, as well as one-on-one counselling over the phone.

For more information, visit Go Smoke FreeExternal link or call the pan-Canadian toll-free quitline number 1-866-366-3667.

The First Trimester: Changes In Mom And Baby

HPHC logo

Some of the changes brought on by pregnancy are quite pleasant. Who would complain if they had glowing skin and warm toes? However, some changes are not as pleasant, like nausea and feeling tired all the time.

This chart shows the changes you and your baby will go through during the first trimester (from the first day of your last menstrual period to 13 weeks).

Changes in mom

Changes in baby

0 to 4 weeks

  • Your body begins to provide for your baby.
  • Your breasts may feel tender (or you may not notice any changes at all).
  • You may know that your menstrual period is late.
  • Your baby is called an embryo and is about 0.6 cm (¼ inch) long or about the size of a grain of rice.
  • The embryo sticks to (implants in) the wall of your uterus.
  • The placenta, amniotic sac and fluid begin to form.
  • The early structures of the brain have started to form.

5 to 8 weeks

  • You have missed your menstrual period.
  • You may feel tired.
  • You may feel strong emotions.
  • You may feel sick to your stomach or vomit (this can happen any time of the day, not just first thing in the morning).
  • You might not feel like eating.
  • The embryo is about 2.5 cm (1 inch) long and weighs less than a grape.
  • The heart starts beating.
  • The head and brain are taking shape.
  • Internal organs are forming.
  • Teeth begin to develop.
  • Arm and leg buds are beginning to show.
  • The spine starts to show and bones begin growing.
  • The spinal cord starts to develop nerve connections (synapses) that will allow your baby to move his limbs and fingers, hiccup, stretch and yawn.

9 to 13 weeks

  • You may be able to feel the top of your uterus, just above your pubic bone (it’s about the size of an orange).
  • You may notice changes to your skin and hair (e.g., skin problems may clear up or you may develop a rash).
  • You may feel sick (this can happen any time of the day, not just first thing in the morning).
  • You might not feel like eating, and you may vomit.
  • You might crave certain foods.
  • You might crave other things, like chalk or dirt (this is called pica—talk to your health care provider).
  • You may have constipation.
  • You may have yellow or white discharge from your vagina (this is normal).
  • You may have slight bleeding from your vagina (more common in women who have already had a baby). A little bleeding can happen; a lot of bleeding, or continued bleeding, needs to be checked.
  • Your gums may look redder than usual. They may be swollen, tender to touch and bleed easily.
  • You may feel tired often.
  • Your emotions may quickly change, from happy one moment to weepy the next.
  • Your baby, now called a fetus, is about 7.6 cm (3 inches) long and weighs about as much as a tube of lipstick.
  • The eyes, ears and nose have formed.
  • The mouth has formed, with lips, tongue and tooth buds.
  • The hands, fingers and fingerprints, knees, ankles and toes have formed.
  • The sex organs (male or female) have formed.
  • Your baby has started to kick (you can’t feel it yet).
  • Your baby sucks his thumb and makes breathing motions.
  • At around 12 weeks, you may be able to hear your baby’s heartbeat through a fetal Doppler.
  • Your baby’s basic brain cells (neurons) are developing very quickly, becoming more organized and are starting to connect to each other.

© Lennart Nilsson/SCANPIX

Retrieved from:

Brain Development – The Early Years

The brain guides growth and development. By understanding how the brain works, you can help children develop and grow.

A child’s brain develops through relationships and interactions with parents and other people. Look for everyday ideas of things you can do to help.

Brain development begins during pregnancy and continues into adult years. Babies are already learning even before they are born. At birth, the brain is about one-quarter the size of an adult’s and is made up of billions of neurons. A newborn’s brain is like a house that has just been built. The walls and doors are up, but the wiring isn’t all in place. There are still a lot of changes to come.

Building the brain is like building a house

In a house…

  • The structure is built starting on the ground.
  • The base or foundation is set, the walls are built and the electrical system is wired—all in an exact order.
  • The electrical wiring allows all parts of the house to work together.
  • A strong foundation supports everything that is built on top of it.

In the brain…

  • The brain’s basic structure forms during pregnancy.
  • The ‘wiring’ of the brain starts as the brain’s neurons begin to connect with each other.
  • Connections in the brain continue to develop through an ongoing process until the early adult years.
  • These connections are how the brain communicates. Communication happens between neurons in the brain, and between the brain and the rest of the nervous system.
  • Early brain development lays the foundation for future learning, behaviour and health.

Things to know about your child’s developing brain

  • Brain structure and early brain cell connections are affected by:
    • what your child is born with—inherited traits and abilities (nature)
    • what your child experiences, the care he receives and the relationships he has with other people (nurture)
  • The most important time for brain development is during pregnancy and the early years. This is when the foundation is set for future learning, behaviour and health.
  • Brain cells form connections with each other so signals can pass from one part of the brain to another. These processes make it possible for children to grow, think and learn.
  • Simple connections form first. They are the base for more complex pathways that come later. This pattern continues for many years.
  • Brain cell connections are created through everyday experiences, interactions and the things that children see, hear, touch, taste and smell.
  • The more often the experience happens, whether positive or negative, the stronger that brain connection becomes.

Retrieved from:

There is no risk-free level of alcohol use during pregnancy


By writing that studies are “ambiguous” in “Five myths about pregnancy” [Outlook, May 14], Amy Tuteur framed the issue of a safe level of alcohol use during pregnancy as an ongoing debate between opposing sides, each with scientific validity. In fact, the science is settled: There is no amount of risk-free alcohol use during pregnancy. This is the position of every scientific and public-health institute and medical and behavioral health association in the United States, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

A meta-analysis of 34 published cohort studies found an association between light-to-moderate levels of prenatal alcohol exposure — less than daily drinking — and developmental problems. Though other studies have not found deficits on a few specific behavioral measures, none has found any level of prenatal alcohol consumption that is non-toxic to human development.

While, in general, the lower the alcohol exposure, the lower the risk, critical genetic factors that make one pregnancy more vulnerable than another are unknown. Why tempt harm when all risk can be avoided? The best advice is a respectful but clear message encouraging mothers-to-be — with the support of their partners, family and friends — to set aside alcohol during pregnancy.

Tom Donaldson, Washington

The writer is president of the
National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.

Haywood L. Brown, Washington

The writer is president of the
American College of Obstetricians
and Gynecologists.

CanFASD: MEDIA RELEASE, Safest not to drink during pregnancy, best recommendation


Safest not to drink during pregnancy, best recommendation

CanFASD cautions that although conversation about stigmatization is important, there is still no established safe level of alcohol to consume during pregnancy.

May 19, 2017 — CanFASD, Canada’s leading FASD research network, says that a recent article posted by the The Guardian presents potentially harmful information about pregnancy and alcohol. The article posted on Thursday, May 18th claimed that warning pregnant women over dangers of alcohol goes too far. A similar article posted to The Telegraph states that advising women not to drink while pregnant is “sexist” and causes “needless anxiety”.

The two articles are based on a news release issued by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service promoting an upcoming conference entitled, Policing Pregnancy: Who Should be a Mother?

CanFASD agrees that although conversation around compassionate, non-judgmental ways to communicate this message to women and expectant mothers is indeed important—the current recommendations do not overstate risk, nor do they remove a woman’s right or ability to make a choice, rather, they provide clear, essential information in order that she may do so. Providing women with accurate information and a supportive, safe environment to make the healthiest choice for herself and her developing baby are essential in reducing prevalence of FASD.

Dr. Nancy Poole, Director of the Centre of Excellence for Women’s Health and Prevention Lead with CanFASD Research Network says:

“It is indeed a challenge to give helpful health messaging to women about alcohol and pregnancy, when there is no known safe level of alcohol consumption when pregnant. As the Guardian article correctly points out, alcohol is a teratogen, which means it causes birth defects. Women have a right to know this. The message that it is “safest not to drink alcohol in pregnancy” seems a quite clear and non-threatening way to state the risk.

Then women make the best decisions they can, with the support of their health care providers, on their use not only of alcohol, but also use/exposure to tobacco, some prescribed medications, and environmental chemicals known to cause congenital abnormalities. Clear public health messaging, coupled with the opportunity to discuss the risks with a compassionate and informed health care provider are critical to support women’s and fetal health.”

The recommendations in question come from the UK chief Medical Officers who last year altered guidelines to advise avoiding alcohol altogether for the duration of a pregnancy. The recommendations, which align with those from The Public Health Agency of Canada, are based on the fact that, despite extensive research, there is still no established safe level of alcohol to consume during pregnancy.

The previous guidelines encouraged exercising moderation through one to two units of alcohol once or twice a week. However, terms such as moderate, low level and light are unclear and subjective. Conflicting messages in the media about how much alcohol can be safely consumed perpetuate confusion. The clearest message is that not consuming alcohol at all during pregnancy is completely safe.

CanFASD encourages a discussion that pushes people to question the place of alcohol in society and our reluctance to consider its harms. ”Instead of questioning how much is safe to drink while pregnant, CanFASD encourages discussion around society’s resistance to accept the harmfulness of alcohol.” says Audrey McFarlane, CanFASD executive director.

For more information or to speak to Dr. Nancy Poole, please contact:
Abby Sherstan, Berlin Communications

About CanFASD:

The Canada Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Research Network (CanFASD) is a collaborative, interdisciplinary research network, with researchers and partners across the nation. CanFASD’s unique partnership brings together many scientific viewpoints to address complexities of FASD, with a focus on ensuring that research knowledge is translated to community and policy action. Our mission is to produce and maintain national, collaborative research designed for sharing with all Canadians, leading to prevention strategies and improved support services for people affected by Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.




Dr Hayley Mills, Dr Marlize De Vivo and Dr Chris Beedie, all from the Sport and Exercise Sciences programme, respond to yesterday’s news suggesting that women are being unfairly alarmed with regard to consuming alcohol when pregnant. 

Yesterday’s news indicating the potential overplaying of the risk of alcohol in pregnancy highlights the professional and ethical tensions that scientists and evidence-based practitioners face on a daily basis. On the one side is the often incredible power of medical and scientific knowledge, on the other the daily encroachment of medicine and science into every aspect of our lives, what is termed ‘medicalisation’.

Many academics and even practitioners have presented coherent and powerful arguments against medicalisation, often identifying the worrying role of commercial, political and similar interested agencies in its apparently insidious spread.

But there are occasions in which these arguments, no matter how well made, no matter how reasonable, and no matter how well intentioned, can be counter-productive. Yesterday’s media around alcohol and pregnancy may be just such an example.

As scientists with a keen interest in exercise and pregnancy, we have to daily consider the tensions between common sense and an un-medicalised approach, and one based on scientific evidence, even if that evidence is not complete. The bottom line, however, is that we also have to veer on the side of caution.

Exercise was once considered a risk to pregnant mothers, we now know the benefits. The risks were overplayed in early research, and subsequent evidence indicated the positive effects of exercise on health during pregnancy. Likewise, evidence for the harmful effects of alcohol may have been overplayed, but where is the evidence for benefit? It is a maxim of knowledge that lack of evidence for something is not the same as evidence for the lack of something. Unlike many areas of science, it is problematic to research the real effects of alcohol during pregnancy, it is an emotive issue riddled with ethical and pragmatic challenges.

But there is a further risk. Any practitioner in public health will be happy to tell you that many people will hear what they want to hear, they will ignore the 99% of messages that indicate, for example, that smoking is harmful, and hear the 1% that indicates a lack of harm.

Scientists and academics should challenge scientific data, it is how science and knowledge progress. But in doing so we must exercise caution because the difference between the message sent – the evidence is not as strong as we like to think – and the messages that people hear – that it’s not as dangerous as we thought to drink alcohol during pregnancy – is stark.

Retrieved from:

« Older Entries