Nutrition has traditionally been considered an important part of health and disease prevention. However, the complexity of foods and cultures present enormous challenges in identifying individual risk factors. This is especially true when it comes to the nutritional needs of people with specific diseases or conditions.
Today, modern molecular nutrition research aims to develop performance and disease-prevention solutions. Moreover, it seeks to understand the relationship between nutrition and DNA methylation. In addition, it focuses on identifying and understanding bioactive components in foods. By assessing the genetics, proteins, and metabolites of individual consumers, dietary intervention can be targeted at those who are most likely to benefit from it.
Historically, nutrition was mainly based on epidemiological studies. However, today, the use of genomics has allowed for a new understanding of the role of nutrients, which can be tailored to specific consumer groups. Genetically based supplement programs can be developed to identify enzymes and antioxidants, and individualized recommendations can be given to help optimize a person’s metabolism.
Recent studies have shown that nutrition and DNA methylation interact, both in the development and later life stages. Epigenetics has emerged as a promising field of study. Not only does it provide insights into the mechanisms involved in developing, aging, and preventing disease, it also provides a new basis for achieving ambitious health goals.
Nutrition and epigenetics work together to re-programme the genome. Despite this, the precise nature of the relationship has not been completely clarified. However, a large body of animal evidence indicates that DNA methylation is influenced by nutrition, and in turn, nutrition can contribute to the development of diverse phenotypes.
Many health conditions are caused by deficiencies in specific vitamins and minerals. For example, a lack of iron can cause irregular heartbeat, fatigue, and unexplained anxiety. Likewise, a deficiency in omega-3 fatty acids can lead to joint pain, irritability, and poor attention. Other symptoms may include high blood pressure, heart failure, seizures, and muscle weakness.
Several studies have revealed a negative relationship between low birth weight and the development of chronic diseases in adulthood. Another study has shown a link between rapid weight gain during infancy and the development of diseases such as Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. These findings, though not fully understood, suggest that maternal nutrition during the peri-conceptional period can be harmful to both the mother and her unborn child.
A recent review demonstrates the scope of the study of DNA methylation in relation to nutrition. The studies reviewed here show that the methylation pattern of the genome changes with age and that environmental influences, such as exercise, affect the methylation status.
Similarly, there are many other factors in the environment that influence the methylation of the genome. For instance, if the population is exposed to toxicants, such as mercury, or to pollutants, it can influence methylation.
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