New Research Says You Are What Your Grandpa Ate

Findings from the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute and Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney found that obese male mice passed on a predisposition to metabolic disease to their sons and grandsons.

Jul 19 2016, 1:14pm

Foto von Neil Moralee via Flickr

You might have fond memories of your grandpa inhaling a stodgy steak and kidney pie and going in for seconds when he thought no one was looking. Or maybe finishing off the last of the Quality Street minutes before asking your nan if they had any Hobnobs in.

But now scientists from the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute and Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney have found that old Gramps' penchant for unhealthy foods could make it harder for you to stay trim.

READ MORE: What Your Dad Ate Before You Were Even Conceived Affects Your Health Now

The study, which has recently been accepted for publication in the Molecular Metabolism journal, found that obese male mice passed on a predisposition to obesity-related conditions like diabetes and fatty liver disease to their sons and grandsons. More unexpectedly, they also found that "this predisposition was transmitted to the grandsons even if their fathers ate well and were metabolically well at the time of conception."

Gee, thanks Grandad.

Lead co-author and head of the epigenetics lab at the Victor Chang Institute Catherine Suter, explained in a press statement that when the offspring of obese mice were exposed to a "junk food diet [...] all the sons reacted dramatically and within just a few weeks they developed fatty liver disease and pre-diabetic symptoms, such as elevated glucose and insulin in the bloodstream."

Suter emphasised the significance of finding that grandchildren were predisposed to metabolic disorders, even if their father was healthy. She said: "The effects of the diet on offspring are dramatic, even when they eat poorly for just for a short time, all because their grandfather was obese."

However the metabolic health of great-grandsons was shown to improve which, according to Suter, means damage can be undone: "this predisposition isn't genetic, it's acquired [...] and is ultimately reversible."

The findings add weight to the theory of epigenetics, whereby parents pass down genes that have changed as a result of their environment. Although further research is needed, the scientists point to RNA molecules (carriers of genetic changes caused by lifestyle) in sperm as transmitters of metabolic disease.

READ MORE: Fat Toddlers Are a Tiny Problem That's Getting Huge

The experiment in Sydney is still at a mice model stage, but a human epigenetics study last year carried out by the scientists from the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research in Denmark found similar results in fathers whose eating habits and weight affected their offspring before they were conceived, also involving RNA in sperm. With kids more vulnerable to unhealthy diets than ever before—whether through the high-sugar, high-fat meals they're consuming or the junk food marketing to which they're exposed—the findings of both studies are important.

Between that and your grandparents "feeding you up" because you're "wasting away" every time you pop round, what choice is there but to dive headfirst into that bowl of toffees and accept your chubby fate?