Metabolic Imprinting, Programming and Epigenetics – A Review of Present Priorities and Future Opportunities

British Journal of Nutrition. 2010;104(Suppl 1)S1-S25

Metabolic programming and metabolic imprinting describe early life events, which impact upon on later physiological outcomes. Despite the increasing numbers of papers and studies, the distinction between metabolic programming and metabolic imprinting remains confusing. The former can be defined as a dynamic process whose effects are dependent upon a critical window(s) while the latter can be more strictly associated with imprinting at the genomic level. The clinical end points associated with these phenomena can sometimes be mechanistically explicable in terms of gene expression mediated by epigenetics. The predictivity of outcomes depends on determining if there is causality or association in the context of both early dietary exposure and future health parameters. The use of biomarkers is a key aspect of determining the predictability of later outcome, and the strengths of particular types of biomarkers need to be determined. It has become clear that several important health endpoints are impacted upon by metabolic programming/imprinting. These include the link between perinatal nutrition, nutritional epigenetics and programming at an early developmental stage and its link to a range of future health risks such as CVD and diabetes. In some cases, the evidence base remains patchy and associative, while in others, a more direct causality between early nutrition and later health is clear.

In addition, it is also essential to acknowledge the communication to consumers, industry, health care providers, policy-making bodies as well as to the scientific community. In this way, both programming and, eventually, reprogramming can become effective tools to improve health through dietary intervention at specific developmental points.

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