Dads Play a Special Role in the Gut Microbiome
You’ve likely heard about the importance of having a healthy gut microbiome, the world of microbes living symbiotically within your intestines. The delicate balance and diversity of that colonic neighborhood seems to greatly influence our wellness, both mentally and physically.1
Scientists think that the most important time for the development of each person’s unique microbiome takes place during our first 3-5 years of life; after that the diversity of microbes remains close to the same through adulthood.2 Moms seem to have the biggest impact on the earliest microbiome beginnings, sharing microbes with their babies during birth and breastfeeding.3
But Mom isn’t the only one with an influence. As it turns out, Dad plays a significant role too.
It’s in the Dad Genes
A study comparing identical and fraternal twins has shown that genetics, which come from both moms and dads, play a role in whether certain microbes in the gut microbiome will thrive or not. The study found that identical twins had microbe similarities that fraternal twins didn’t.4
Scientists also found is that people with certain variants of the LTC gene are more likely to have higher numbers of friendly Bifidobacterium.4 Certain Bifidobacterium species have been associated positive health benefits to their human hosts and are often used in probiotic supplements.5
The study also touched on the senses of taste and smell. Both can be inherited traits and often help shape a child’s food preferences.[4,6,7] For example, if Dad finds that raw broccoli tastes bitter and unappealing, it may taste the same way to his child.7
This can be formative when it comes to the microbiome, because studies show that certain high fiber foods like broccoli are prebiotics, which can feed the young microbiome and help beneficial bacteria thrive.8
So, if children are not eating these foods based on genetic dislikes, they may be missing out both nutrients the food offers to their bodies and nutrients that keep their microbiome robust.
Consider that this loss to the microbiome can be a problem that gets worse if it continues over generations.9 Some research on mice has shown that after several generations of passing on fewer good microbes, the losses are compounded, which may affect health.9 Researchers suggest that this may be why probiotic supplementation can be helpful in maintaining health for some people.9
It’s in the Dad Exposure Too
It’s not always true but it’s often true. When it comes to play, dads tend to take the rough and tumble approach more often than moms. Fathers also tend to play more often with their children while they care for them.10
Frequent close contact from a loving father is fun and it offers a bonus benefit: Dad is simultaneously passing his microbes to his offspring. The more hugs and kisses Dad offers, the more exposure the child gets to Pop’s unique flora. And if they’re wrestling on the floor or ground, the child is exposed to microbes there as well.
This gives extra opportunity to build diversity in their little person’s microbiome, a gift that may last through their child’s lifetime.2
How Can Dad Support His Child’s Gut Microbiome?
We live in a time when more fathers are equally sharing caregiver roles for their young children.11 While dads can’t control the genetics that they pass to their kids, there are many things loving fathers can do that may diversify their child’s microbiome. A few ideas include:
Play with your little ones outdoors, enjoying nature.
Encourage outdoor activities that involve soil, like gardening.12
Expose kids to a wide variety of high fiber foods like fruit, vegetables, and whole grains.8
Offer fermented foods with active and live cultures like kefir and yogurt.8
Help kids find ways to enjoy healthy foods they don’t care for through creative cooking methods. Keep trying.
Set an example by taking care of your own gut microbiome.
So go on dads, goof off with your kiddos. The loving attention may benefit them in more ways than we ever realized.
1. Mohajeri, M. Hasan, Robert J. M. Brummer, Robert A. Rastall, Rinse K. Weersma, Hermie J. M. Harmsen, Marijke Faas, and Manfred Eggersdorfer. 2018. European Journal of Nutrition 57 (Suppl 1): 1–14.
2. Rodríguez, Juan Miguel, Kiera Murphy, Catherine Stanton, R. Paul Ross, Olivia I. Kober, Nathalie Juge, Ekaterina Avershina, et al. 2015. Microbial Ecology in Health and Disease 26 (February): 26050.
3. “Microbiome Acquired at Birth - Bacterial Rite of Passage.” n.d. American Museum of Natural History. Accessed May 31, 2022. https://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/the-secret-world-inside-you/microbiome-at-birth.
4. Goodrich, Julia K., Emily R. Davenport, Michelle Beaumont, Matthew A. Jackson, Rob Knight, Carole Ober, Tim D. Spector, Jordana T. Bell, Andrew G. Clark, and Ruth E. Ley. 2016. Cell Host & Microbe 19 (5): 731–43
5. O’Callaghan, Amy, and Douwe van Sinderen. 2016. Frontiers in Microbiology 7 (June): 925.
6. Bachmanov, Alexander A., Natalia P. Bosak, Cailu Lin, Ichiro Matsumoto, Makoto Ohmoto, Danielle R. Reed, and Theodore M. Nelson. 2014. Current Pharmaceutical Design 20 (16): 2669–83.
7. “The Role of Genetics in Food Taste and Smells.” n.d. Accessed May 31, 2022. https://www.eatright.org/food/nutrition/healthy-eating/the-role-of-genetics-in-food-taste-and-smells.
8. “Gut Insight.” n.d. Accessed May 31, 2022. http://www.gutinsight.com/prebiotic_food_sources_list.html.
9. Sonnenburg, Erica D., Samuel A. Smits, Mikhail Tikhonov, Steven K. Higginbottom, Ned S. Wingreen, and Justin L. Sonnenburg. 2016. Nature 529 (7585): 212–15.
10. Robinson, Erin Louise, Jennifer StGeorge, and Emily Elsa Freeman. 2021. Children 8 (5). https://doi.org/10.3390/children8050389.
11. US Census Bureau Public Information Office. 2016. “One-Third of Fathers with Working Wives Regularly Care for Their Children, Census Bureau Reports - Children - Newsroom - U.s. Census Bureau,” May. https://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/children/cb11-198.html.
12. Sobko, Tanja, Suisha Liang, Will H. G. Cheng, and Hein M. Tun. 2020. Scientific Reports 10 (1): 21993.