It seems like moms are forever hearing, “Hey, you better have a baby soon! Older moms are such a health risk.” But men are supposedly a different story — and folks often make statements such as, “Men can have a baby any old time they want.” However, according to new research, this mindset may not be entirely true. Men who wait to have children may be putting their future kids at an increased risk of autism and schizophrenia. The research, conducted by Icelandic firm Decode Genetics, looked at genetic material taken from blood samples of 78 parent-child trios. They focused on families where parents had zero signs of mental disorders, yet who gave birth to a child who eventually developed autism or schizophrenia. Examining the families in this way allowed the researchers to isolate brand-new mutations in the genes of the children. The researchers found that the average 20-year-old father passes on 25 random gene mutations to his kids — and as the man ages, so do the mutations, steadily by two mutations a year. This means when a male reaches the age of 40, he’s now passing on about 65 gene mutations to his offspring. Mothers, on the other hand, pass off just 15 mutations, regardless of their age.
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What’s important about this research is that it debunks common myths that say older mothers are entirely to blame for baby abnormalities. This study shows that while it’s true that a mother’s age is associated with risks of chromosomal abnormalities, such as Down syndrome, the more complex developmental and psychiatric problems that a child may end up with start more often with the sperm, not the egg. In fact this research shows that dads passed on nearly four times as many new mutations as mothers did. The researchers point out that the risks of having a developmentally or mentally challenged child are slim, even for older parents, but they also note that rising rate of autism over recent years is linked, at least in part, to the fact that men are becoming parents later in life. Of course, we can’t discount the fact that autism may be more diagnosed nowadays, simply because doctors now know what to look for. Personally, although this isn’t the best research news, I do think it’s nice to see a study that focuses on men and not “mom problems” for once!