Fine-grained investigation of the relationship between human nutrition and global DNA methylation patterns

Eur J Nutr. 2022 Apr;61(3):1231-1243. doi: 10.1007/s00394-021-02716-8. Epub 2021 Nov 6.


Purpose: Nutrition is an important, modifiable, environmental factor affecting human health by modulating epigenetic processes, including DNA methylation (5mC). Numerous studies investigated the association of nutrition with global and gene-specific DNA methylation and evidences on animal models highlighted a role in DNA hydroxymethylation (5hmC) regulation. However, a more comprehensive analysis of different layers of nutrition in association with global levels of 5mC and 5hmC is lacking. We investigated the association between global levels of 5mC and 5hmC and human nutrition, through the stratification and analysis of dietary patterns into different nutritional layers: adherence to Mediterranean diet (MD), main food groups, macronutrients and micronutrients intake.

Methods: ELISA technique was used to measure global 5mC and 5hmC levels in 1080 subjects from the Moli-sani cohort. Food intake during the 12 months before enrolment was assessed using the semi-quantitative EPIC food frequency questionnaire. Complementary approaches involving both classical statistics and supervised machine learning analyses were used to investigate the associations between global 5mC and 5hmC levels and adherence to Mediterranean diet, main food groups, macronutrients and micronutrients intake.

Results: We found that global DNA methylation, but not hydroxymethylation, was associated with daily intake of zinc and vitamin B3. Random Forests algorithms predicting 5mC and 5hmC through intakes of food groups, macronutrients and micronutrients revealed a significant contribution of zinc, while vitamin B3 was reported among the most influential features.

Conclusion: We found that nutrition may affect global DNA methylation, suggesting a contribution of micronutrients previously implicated as cofactors in methylation pathways.

Keywords: Food groups; Global DNA methylation; Mediterranean diet; Micronutrients; Vitamin B3; Zinc.

MeSH terms

  • 5-Methylcytosine* / metabolism
  • Animals
  • DNA Methylation*
  • Epigenesis, Genetic
  • Humans
  • Nutritional Status


  • 5-Methylcytosine