Possible roles of zinc nutriture in the fetal origins of disease

Exp Gerontol. 2008 May;43(5):378-81. doi: 10.1016/j.exger.2007.10.005. Epub 2007 Oct 22.


Risk of diseases of metabolism such as atherosclerosis and adult onset diabetes mellitus is increased by fetal malnutrition. Deficiencies of micronutrients essential for methylation are believed to contribute to the phenomenon in part through epigenetic abnormalities. Zinc is one of the nutrients essential for the epigenome. Because the worldwide prevalence of zinc deficiency is at least 20%, fetal zinc deficiency is common. We suggest fetal zinc deficiency contributes to the pathogenesis of metabolic diseases in adults. In support of our thesis, research in experimental models and humans established the essentiality of zinc at all stages of intrauterine and infant life. Experiments in rodents and/or non-human primates found that fetal and/or suckling zinc deficiency impairs neuropsychological functions of progeny and that the effects persist in spite of nutritional rehabilitation. In addition, maternal zinc deficiency in mice is reported to impair immunity of progeny; effects persist in spite of nutritional rehabilitation into the next generation. We suspect that zinc deficiency is a far greater human health problem than is generally recognized.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Epigenesis, Genetic / physiology
  • Female
  • Fetal Development
  • Fetal Diseases / etiology
  • Humans
  • Maternal Nutritional Physiological Phenomena / physiology*
  • Models, Biological
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / etiology*
  • Risk Factors
  • Zinc / deficiency*


  • Zinc