Several studies have talked about the dangers of women smoking during pregnancy. However, according to a recent research, men’s exposure to nicotine can also cause problems in future generations of their children.
The Florida State University College of Medicine study in mice produced results that suggest nicotine exposure in men could lead to cognitive deficits in their children and grandchildren. Further studies will be required to know if the same outcomes seen in mice would apply to humans.
The results were published in the journal PLOS Biology.
“Our data raise the possibility that some of the cognitive disabilities found in today’s generation of children and adults may be attributable to adverse environmental insults suffered a generation or two ago,” said Pradeep Bhide.
“Cigarette smoking was more common and more readily accepted by the population in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s compared to today. Could that exposure be revealing itself as a marked rise in the diagnoses of neurodevelopmental disorders such as ADHD and autism?”
The study found that changes in the father’s sperm attributed to nicotine exposure led to problems in genes that play a role in memory and learning. These epigenetic changes are believed to be temporary, Bhide said, though some could be long-lasting. More research is needed to understand how long the changes last, he said.
Nicotine’s harmful effects for cells in the lungs and brain are part of the body of evidence cited in the orders doctors give to avoid smoking. Absent in the conversation has been research demonstrating how nicotine affects germ cells — or changes DNA in the sperm.
Nicotine exposure for women is recognised as a significant risk factor for behavioral disorders such as ADHD. With men, there has not previously been enough evidence to separate genetic risk factors from environmental influences.
“Doctors may not warn men that their smoking could be harming their unborn child even if the mother never smoked,” Bhide said. “I think our study brings this to the fore,” he concluded.