Objective: To present a new branch of scientific knowledge, known as the developmental origins of health and disease (DOHaD), covering its concepts, study methods and ethical considerations in addition to the prospects for this area of knowledge.
Sources: A non-systematic review of the biomedical literature intended to identify historical and current references related to the subject under discussion.
Summary of the findings: Recent studies demonstrate associations between aggressions suffered during the initial phases of somatic development and amplified risk of chronic diseases throughout life, such as obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. A variety of models have been proposed in attempts to better explain these associations, such as the thrifty phenotype, programming and predictive adaptive response theories and the concept of match or mismatch. Some of the mechanisms possibly involved in these processes are: effects of the environment on gene expression, through epigenetic mechanisms; effects of hormonal signals transmitted to the fetus via the placenta or the newborn via lactation.
Conclusions: DOHaD draws together information originating from many different areas of knowledge, proposing new investigative methodologies to elucidate the influence of adverse events that occur during early phases of human development on the pattern of health and disease throughout life. This new scientific field proposes new models of causality and of the mechanisms involved in the emergence and development of chronic diseases. The results of these investigations may result in a significant impact on the prevention of chronic diseases, and also on health promotion in different phases of life.