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Nutriepigenomics is the study of food nutrients and their effects on human health through epigenetic modifications. There is now considerable evidence that nutritional imbalances during gestation and lactation are linked to non-communicable diseases, such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension, and cancer. If metabolic disturbances occur during critical time windows of development, the resulting epigenetic alterations can lead to permanent changes in tissue and organ structure or function and predispose individuals to disease.
Epigenetics relates to heritable changes in gene function that occur independently of alterations in primary DNA sequence. Two major epigenetic mechanisms implicated in nutriepigenomics are DNA methylation and histone modification. DNA methylation in gene promoter regions usually results in gene silencing and influences gene expression. While this form of gene silencing is extremely important in development and cellular differentiation, aberrant DNA methylation can be detrimental and has been linked to various disease processes, such as cancer. The methyl groups used in DNA methylation are often derived from dietary sources, such as folate and choline, and explains why diet can have a significant impact on methylation patterns and gene expression. Gene silencing can also be reinforced through the recruitment of histone deacetylases to decrease transcriptional activation. Conversely, histone acetylation induces transcriptional activation to increase gene expression. Dietary components can influence these epigenetic events, thereby altering gene expression and disturbing functions such as appetite control, metabolic balance and fuel utilization.
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