Metabolic syndrome (MetS) affects more than 47 million people in the U.S. Even more alarming, MetS, once regarded as an "adult problem", has become increasingly common in children. To date, most related research and intervention efforts have occurred in the adult medicine arena, with limited understanding of the root causes and lengthy latency of MetS. This review highlights new science on the early life origins of MetS, with a particular focus on exposure to two groups of environmental toxicants: endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) and metals during the prenatal and early postnatal periods, and their specific effects and important differences in the development of MetS. It also summarizes available data on epigenetic effects, including the role of EDCs in the androgen/estrogen pathways. Emerging evidence supports the link between exposures to environmental toxicants during early life and the development of MetS later in life. Additional research is needed to address important research gaps in this area, including prospective birth cohort studies to delineate temporal and dose-response relationships, important differences in the effects of various environmental toxicants and their joint effects on MetS, as well as epigenetic mechanisms underlying the effects of specific toxicants such as EDCs and metals.
Keywords: diabetes; environmental toxicants; metabolic syndrome; obesity; prenatal exposure.