New research published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that epigenetic aging, defined as an age estimation based on epigenetic markers on the DNA, may play a role in linking prenatal exposures, including nutrition, with early life markers of cardiometabolic health and chronic disease risk in adulthood. The most distinctive epigenetic characteristic, DNA methylation, influences the rate of epigenetic aging.

Accordingly, researcher Michael Skilton (University of Sydney) and colleagues sought to determine early life risk factors for newborn epigenetic aging, specifically maternal dietary macronutrient intake, and whether epigenetic aging is associated with cardiovascular health markers in the newborn.

To assess epigenetic age acceleration, DNA methylation levels were measured in the saliva of 169 newborns. Epigenetic age acceleration represents biological aging above or below that predicted by chronological age. Maternal data including age, pre-pregnancy weight, height, medical history and pregnancy lifestyle information was collected using questionnaires and from medical records. 

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Newborns with accelerated epigenetic aging were more likely to be female and have greater body fatness. Maternal intakes of saturated fat and monounsaturated fat were also associated with higher epigenetic age acceleration in the newborn. Conversely, vitamin D supplementation was associated with lower epigenetic age acceleration.  In preterm infants, epigenetic age acceleration was associated with thickness of the wall of the aorta, the main blood vessel that supplies oxygen-rich blood to the circulatory system.

This study provides evidence of maternal dietary characteristics associated with epigenetic aging in the offspring. The authors conclude that epigenetic age acceleration begins before birth, and that prenatal exposures, including modifiable maternal dietary characteristics, are associated with newborn epigenetic age. However, prospective intervention studies will be needed to confirm whether such associations are causal.

Reference Phang M, Ross J, Raythatha JH, Dissanayake RU, McMullan RL, Kong Y, Hyett J, Gordon A, Molloy P, Skilton MR.Epigenetic aging in newborns  role of maternal diet. TheAmerican Journal of Clinical Nutrition, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/nqz326.

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