Women's Health

July 20, 2011

Dad’s diet influences birth timing

It may be possible to prevent preterm birth by modifying the father’s diet before a baby’s conception.

Pregnant tummy and clock

Preterm birth – before 37 weeks of gestation – is the leading cause of infant mortality and morbidity in industrialized nations. Inflammation, frequently associated with infection, is a well-known cause of preterm birth.

Kaylon Bruner-Tran, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology, Kevin Osteen, professor of obstetrics and gynecology, and their research team are exploring the possibility that environmental pollutants – such as dioxins – promote inappropriate inflammation and disrupt pregnancy.

They previously demonstrated that in utero exposure of male mice to a certain dioxin increased the risk of preterm birth following mating to unexposed females. Earlier findings also indicated that toxicant exposure of male mice increased the placental inflammatory response, disrupting communication at the maternal-fetal interface.

The researchers now report that providing a diet high in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil) to toxicant-exposed males prior to mating eliminated preterm birth in unexposed females and was associated with a reduction in placental inflammatory response. This study, published in the journal Reproduction, suggests that the father’s diet before conception can be modulated to prevent toxicant-associated inflammation and preterm birth.

This research was supported by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and The Endometriosis Association.