Does sperm impact the risk of diabetes?
Globally, the prevalence of diabetes is on the rise. The Journal of Epidemiology and Global Health noted, “in 2017, approximately 462 million individuals were affected by type 2 diabetes”. The WHO recommends simple lifestyle changes to help delay and prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes.
Here we share studies that highlight how diabetes could be passed on to children and future generations through paternal lifestyle choices, and ultimately their genes.
What are the causes of Type 2 Diabetes?
Diabetes occurs when the body is unable to deal with blood sugar (glucose) effectively. Insulin is the hormone that effectively manages your blood sugar, and when it becomes ineffective, it is known as 'insulin resistance'. This creates high levels of blood sugar which increases the risk of serious health conditions.
Diabetes, particularly type 2 diabetes, is largely caused by lifestyle factors as well as genetics. Factors such as the amount of physical activity and our diet play a role in the risk of developing diabetes later in life.
Unsure if you may be developing diabetes? Our expert nutritionists explain what insulin resistance is.
Should I worry about Diabetes?
Long-term diabetes can result in loss of vision, heart issues, liver issues, kidney damage and even amputations.
In an earlier article we outlined 10 symptoms of diabetes to look out for, and here we take a closer look into how family history, obesity and exercise play a role in hereditary diabetes across generations.
A study by the Canadian Medical Association Journal has shown that mothers who have 'gestational diabetes' have the risk of passing on diabetes to their children. Gestational diabetes is when your body can't make enough insulin during pregnancy. By comparing data from 73,180 mothers, the research found that almost 50% of children whose mothers had gestational diabetes developed diabetes between the ages of 12-22 years old.
Find out more about insulin resistance and pre-diabetes
Can fathers pass on diabetes?
There are an increasing number of 'epigenetic studies' indicating how diabetes could be passed on to the next generation through male sperm. 'Epigenetic studies' look at changes in organisms caused by the modification of gene expression, rather than the alternation of the generic code itself. You may also be interested in 'What is biohacking'.
Genes in sperm cells
Epigenetic studies have shown that sperm cells don’t just deliver DNA to the egg. There are genes encoded into sperm cells that can be altered by environmental and lifestyle factors. This means that if a man is obese or doesn't do enough physical exercise, the effects of this could be passed down to future generations through the sperm cells.
Paternal diet and fitness play an impact on glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity. If a man is obese or has a higher BMI, he will have a higher sensitivity to insulin. This, in turn, could modify their epigenetics, resulting in this insulin sensitivity being passed down to future generations.
Find out more about symptoms of high and low blood sugar
Impact of genomic imprinting on future generations
Epigenetic research shows that children or future offspring, particularly second-generation, stand a higher risk of developing metabolic diseases such as type 2 diabetes later on in life. In addition, studies also show that genomic imprinting can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease as well as mental defects in adulthood.
Such studies highlight the importance for men to look after their health, as their health can affect their sperm and the health of their offspring and future generations.
It is important to consider behaviour and lifestyle choices such as diet and exercise in order to prevent the onset of diabetes for current generations and to help protect future generations. Learn more about the signs of diabetes, symptoms of high and low blood sugar as well as the best foods for type 2 diabetes.
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Blotsky et al (2019). Available: https://www.cmaj.ca/content/191/15/E410
Ding et al (2015). Available: https://bit.ly/3xtQxaI
Donkin and Barrès (2018). Available: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2212877818301042
Health Care University of Utah (2018). Available: https://healthcare.utah.edu/the-scope/shows.php?shows=0_smfdnnqq
Khan et al (2020). Available: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7310804/pdf/JEGH-10-1-107.pdf
Stuppia et al (2015). Available: https://clinicalepigeneticsjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13148-015-0155-4
World Health Organisation (2021). Available: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/diabetes