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Nutrition, epigenetics and health through life

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Fiona MalcomsonORCiD, Professor John Mathers


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© 2017 British Nutrition Foundation Epigenetics describe heritable changes to the genome without changes to the DNA sequence itself. Epigenetic marks include DNA methylation and histone modifications, and epigenetic molecules include microRNAs. Epigenetic mechanisms modulate gene expression and so regulate many cellular processes such as cell proliferation and cell death. As a consequence, changes to the epigenome may have consequences for the function of cells, tissues and organs and may modify the risk of developing disease. Epigenetic marks and molecules change during development and also during ageing; as we age, global DNA methylation declines whilst some specific genes become hypermethylated. Unlike the genome (DNA sequence), the epigenome is not fixed and the constellation of epigenetic marks and molecules is influenced by environmental exposures, including diet. Therefore, epigenetics provides a mechanism though which nutrition modulates health and wellbeing throughout the life course and, importantly, a plausible mechanism for the long-term effects of early life nutritional exposures. There is growing evidence of the specific nutrients and other food constituents that influence the epigenome but, to date, the molecular pathways through which nutritional exposures and status are transduced (received and recorded) remain to be elucidated. Epigenetic patterns are promising candidate diet-related biomarkers of ageing and of disease risk and, therefore, may be useful as surrogate endpoints in nutritional epidemiology and in dietary intervention studies.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Malcomson FC, Mathers JC

Publication type: Review

Publication status: Published

Journal: Nutrition Bulletin

Year: 2017

Volume: 42

Issue: 3

Pages: 254-265

Print publication date: 01/09/2017

Online publication date: 15/08/2017

Acceptance date: 02/04/2016

ISSN (print): 1471-9827

ISSN (electronic): 1467-3010

Publisher: Blackwell Publishing Ltd


DOI: 10.1111/nbu.12281