Physiology and developmental biology professor Tim Jenkins worked with a multi-institutional team researching tree nuts’ effects on sperm epigenetic patterns. Many factors affect sperm health including alterations to DNA methylation, a key epigenetic regulator. The study observed 72 males to determine the impact of adding tree nuts into a traditional western diet. There was no change in global sperm DNA methylation, but 36 genomic regions displayed altered DNA methylation and 97.2% of the regions showed signs of hypermethylation. The data established that the sperm epigenome is sensitive to even subtle diet changes.
Jenkins became interested in researching sperm health because of the steady decline in fertility rates in humans. Male factors are connected to approximately half of infertility cases, and elements like environmental exposure and lifestyle choices contribute to the problem.
“I was interested in carrying out this study because we need to further understand the impact of diet on sperm epigenetic patterns,” Jenkins said. “[These patterns] are capable of influencing not only infertility of the affected individual, but they can also potentially impact the offspring.”
The data presented in the study is part of a growing body of evidence suggesting that a man’s lifestyle decisions can potentially impact his fertility as well as his offspring’s health. Jenkins commented on the importance, saying, “I hope that this particularly affects the way that men think about their lifestyle decisions since even subtle changes can impact epigenetic signatures in sperm.”