Epigenetics: Linking Early Postnatal Nutrition to Obesity Programming?

Nutrients. 2019 Dec 5;11(12):2966. doi: 10.3390/nu11122966.


Despite constant research and public policy efforts, the obesity epidemic continues to be a major public health threat, and new approaches are urgently needed. It has been shown that nutrient imbalance in early life, from conception to infancy, influences later obesity risk, suggesting that obesity could result from "developmental programming". In this review, we evaluate the possibility that early postnatal nutrition programs obesity risk via epigenetic mechanisms, especially DNA methylation, focusing on four main topics: (1) the dynamics of epigenetic processes in key metabolic organs during the early postnatal period; (2) the epigenetic effects of alterations in early postnatal nutrition in animal models or breastfeeding in humans; (3) current limitations and remaining outstanding questions in the field of epigenetic programming; (4) candidate pathways by which early postnatal nutrition could epigenetically program adult body weight set point. A particular focus will be given to the potential roles of breast milk fatty acids, neonatal metabolic and hormonal milieu, and gut microbiota. Understanding the mechanisms by which early postnatal nutrition can promote lifelong metabolic modifications is essential to design adequate recommendations and interventions to "de-program" the obesity epidemic.

Keywords: DNA methylation; breast milk; developmental programming; early postnatal nutrition; epigenetics; obesity.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Breast Feeding
  • Cellular Reprogramming / genetics
  • Child Development
  • DNA Methylation / genetics
  • Energy Metabolism / genetics
  • Epigenesis, Genetic / genetics*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Nutritional Physiological Phenomena / genetics*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Maternal Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Obesity / genetics
  • Pediatric Obesity / genetics*