Obesity Makes Your Sperm Weird?

Donkin, Versteyhe et al. Cell Metabolism 2015“Weird” new research published in Cell Metabolism adds to the evidence suggesting that men can pass obesity on to their children through epigenetic markers in their sperm — meaning that without changing their genetic code, obesity can change the way that genes are expressed and transmitted to their children.

The research demonstrated that sperm from men with obesity has different epigenetic markers related to brain function and appetite control than men who don’t have the condition. And it also showed that these markers were changed back after bariatric surgery. It’s a small study, but it adds to the understanding that obesity might be transmitted from one generation to the next through effects that obesity has on how genes are expressed.

Apparently, this strikes the Washington Post as “weird.” Their headline about the study warns, “Listen up, dads: Obesity makes your sperm weird.” The reaction, we suppose, is understandable. If your limited understanding of obesity is that it’s simply the result of “every french fry you eat,” then all that research documenting how genetics, epigenetics, and brain science explain a lot about how the body stores fat seems “weird.” Their message for dads is “get anxious.”

It’s unfortunate that the Post couldn’t go beyond shallow quips about french fries and anxiety regarding obesity. But it’s unsurprising. All this “weird” science, suggesting that obesity is about more than too much Coke and McDonald’s, takes some time to sink in.

Click here to read the study and here to read more in the Washington Post.

Fertilization, photograph © Peiling Tan / flickr

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December 6, 2015

2 Responses to “Obesity Makes Your Sperm Weird?”

  1. December 07, 2015 at 7:57 am, Leah Whigham said:

    Great overview, Ted – and, I generally love the pictures you find, but this one is especially great!

    • December 08, 2015 at 3:20 am, Ted said:

      Thanks, Leah. I get a lot of pleasure from finding good images.