PLoS One 2018 10;13(8):e0201672. Epub 2018 Aug 10.
MRC Unit for Lifelong Health and Ageing, Institute of Cardiovascular Science, University College London, London, United Kingdom.
Background: Body size, nutrition and socioeconomic position (SEP) in early life have been associated with a wide range of long-term health effects. Epigenetics is one possible mechanism through which these early life exposures can impact later life health. We conducted a systematic review examining the observational evidence for the impact of body size, nutrition and SEP in early life on the epigenome in humans.
Methods: This systematic review is registered with the PROSPERO database (registration number: CRD42016050193). Three datasets were simultaneously searched using Ovid and the resulting studies were evaluated by at least two independent reviewers. Studies measuring epigenetic markers either at the same time as, or after, the early life exposure and have a measure of body size, nutrition or SEP in early life (up to 12 years), written in English and from a community-dwelling participants were included.
Results: We identified 90 eligible studies. Seventeen of these papers examined more than one early life exposure of interest. Fifty six papers examined body size, 37 nutrition and 17 SEP. All of the included papers examined DNA methylation (DNAm) as the epigenetic marker. Overall there was no strong evidence for a consistent association between these early life variables in DNAm which may be due to the heterogeneous study designs, data collection methods and statistical analyses.
Conclusions: Despite these inconclusive results, the hypothesis that the early life environment can impact DNAm, potentially persisting into adult life, was supported by some studies and warrants further investigation. We provide recommendations for future studies.