This is actually quite brave research. Of all the thankless tasks of birth research, birth defects are the top of the tree, a truly hated and feared subject. It’s the toughest of all researches in the field, and developing working principles is extremely demanding. Getting the information is one thing- Just putting it together properly so it can function as a basis for further research is very hard work.
This is also the beginning of a very necessary, (and some would say long overdue, like about 200 years), systematic approach to paternal roles in birth defects as well as the occupational issues. Since the Industrial Revolution, the health effects of the “modern” workplace have been documented in many ways, but not very effectively if at all in relation to fertility, let alone paternally- derived, occupationally specific birth defects as individual case issues.
…obtained the job histories of just under 1000 dads who had had a child with one or more birth defects born between 1997 and 2004, and those of just over 4000 dads whose kids did not have congenital abnormalities, via telephone interviews with their partners.
This included defects among stillborn babies, and those that were aborted, as well as in live born children.
Jobs were then classified into 63 groups, based on assumed exposure profiles to chemicals or other potential hazards within the job itself and within the profession/industry.
Job classification was restricted to the three months before conception and the first month of pregnancy, considered to be the critical period for susceptibility to damage passed on in the father's sperm.
Previously this sort of research was done using a very broad based sampling method, not creating distinctions between jobs and specific types of birth defects. The results were largely ignored, and hardly got a mention outside the professional sphere and even then were more topical than practical issues.
The results were quite surprising:
Jobs associated with specific types of defect included artists (mouth, eyes and ears, gut, limbs, and heart); photographer and photo processors (cataracts, glaucoma, absence of or insufficient eye tissue); drivers (absence of or insufficient eye tissue, glaucoma); landscapers and groundsmen (gut abnormalities).
Even more surprising, given that emphasis on assumed chemical exposure was part of the study, was the fact that painters, soldiers, auto and chemical workers were not found to be at risk. These people are in direct contact with some of the most toxic substances in existence, and have safety regimes to prove it.
If you’re getting the impression of a NASA-style database being required to really investigate these issues, you’re right. A sample base is a sample base. One study doesn’t make a working principle. Maybe they found a lot of lucky painters and unlucky artists. Much more data is needed to start working on cause and effect before anyone’s going to be able to come up with a good OHS for Fathers routine.
Finally- Looking at current information
The real value of this study, in fact, isn’t in its data, which will have to be expanded and extrapolated over time. The real significance is that the impact of current local-specific environmental factors on pregnancy, a truly gigantic piece of string, is now being addressed. That's also what's so brave about this research- It really is a new world to explore, requiring new and better methods. While the basic ideas of the effects of genes and hereditary conditions are well understood, these current local individual variables are clearly equally important, and they’re not clearly mapped out at all.
A birth defect is based on multiple issues:
1. Genetic links issues –
Sharing genes isn’t as easy as it sounds. If one set doesn’t work, it affects the other.
2. Age of father-
Men over about 40 need specific amino acids to create healthy sperm.
3. Health of father
- Insert medical dictionary here. Medical conditions can impact on sperm.
4. Alcohol or other substances
- Some materials are natural spermicides. The survivors can be in pretty bad shape. On the job, other chemicals may also perform these roles.
5. Toxic environments-
This blanket term usually misleads people into thinking it means a large environment or something on the Discovery Channel. In practice, it’s the subjective effect of the environment on the health of individuals.
Many of these are also job-related issues:
1. Genes are usually considered hereditary issues, but there’s a mounting level of evidence that food provides a lot of genetic information as well. If so, a bad diet and a bad job are bad news for new fathers.
2. Age, obviously, affects the type of work and the length of exposure to the job and related pressures, health issues, etc.
3. A father’s health can be catastrophically affected by a bad job, depression, high stress, overwork, and the totally scrambled hormonal and metabolic conditions which result.
4. Alcohol and other substances- Liver damage caused by ingesting actual poisons, particularly in large quantities, is also directly related to general health and sperm health.
5. Toxic environments- A person in a hostile, progressively degenerative environment is naturally worse off over time in that sort of situation. The health of the individual in a toxic job environment is therefore a big issue.
Jobs also naturally contain various combinations of the above.
Predicting birth defects based on occupation- A new science in the making
The hard work is yet to come on this extremely tricky area of research. This is specialist work, and from the look of it, it will expand exponentially as studies develop. There’s massive number crunching required to get positive identification of risks and relate them to specific cases. The sheer number of individual variables alone will be bigger than the Human Genome Project. Any one person could be subject to literally hundreds or even thousands of variables.
The good news is that:
1. These local individual issues are also most likely fixable. You could actually have an app for diagnosis and treatment- If you can get all the information you need. Some medical issues and general health can be easily fixed by good quality food. Simply not doing some things will improve health, often dramatically.
2. You can do something about a bad job that’s affecting your health- Leave the damn thing
3. Remember it’s not only your health that’s likely to be affected, new dads, and you don’t need to be told what to do.
Watch this subject, folks, because the next stage of research, particularly comprehensive research, will be mindblowing. This is a new option for OHS, and it could be a massive game changer and life changer for people who really need it- People who haven't even been born yet.