When research began to trickle out 10 years ago suggesting that what we do today can affect the health of our unborn children, it was largely "considered heretical," medical biochemistry professor Dr. Oliver Rando tells the Boston Herald. Not anymore. Habits like cigarette smoking have since been shown to negatively affect future generations, and now a new study, albeit on mice, suggests yet another side effect: When fathers smoke, their future children may be born with a higher tolerance of not just tobacco but drugs of all kinds—the danger being that life-saving ones such as antibiotics, chemo, and antidepressants could be less effective for them. Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Medical School describe it as inheriting "enhanced chemical tolerance and drug clearance abilities."
The findings need to be replicated in humans and the ramifications are still unknown, but the implications could be broad. Drugs of both the illicit and life-saving variety are metabolized similarly in the liver, so while the study involved only nicotine and cocaine, "it would also be reasonable to think other drugs would be less effective," one of the researchers says. Reporting in the journal eLife, the team concludes that the changes appear to be genetic and influence the way the livers of the offspring with "multitoxin resistance" break down drugs. Next up they plan to study whether drugs like painkillers are also affected. "It's important to understand what information is specifically being passed down from father to offspring and how that impacts us.” (Here's what happened to a boy whose mom doesn't believe in antibiotics.)