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Member Research and Reports

Member Research and Reports

UGA: Study Finds Link Between Early-life Exposure to Famine and High Cholesterol Later in Life

New research from the University of Georgia has revealed that early exposure to long periods of severe food deprivation can lead to high cholesterol later in life.

The study, which appeared in Clinical Epigenetics in June, found that children and babies who lived through the Chinese Great Famine had detectably higher levels of total cholesterol in late adulthood.

“Previous famine studies have demonstrated that famine increases the risk of hypertension, insulin resistance, obesity, and dyslipidemia,” said Ms. Luqi Shen, an epidemiology doctoral candidate in the University of Georgia College of Public Health, and lead author on the study.

Drastic environmental changes like a famine can cause genes to alter their function. This process, known as methylation, can sometimes lead to long-term impacts on our health.

Ms. Shen and CPH colleague Dr. Changwei Li wanted to look at how one particular gene, IGF2, was affected by the famine.

IFG2 plays a pivotal role in human development and growth, and methylation in this gene can cause serious developmental disorders at birth and higher risk for cardiovascular disease in adulthood.

Using data from the Genomic Research of the Chinese Famine (GRECF) study, researchers tested associations between famine severity, DNA methylation in the IGF2 gene, and lipid levels.

After controlling for age, gender, and other lifestyle habits known to impact cholesterol, they found that early-life exposure to famine was linked to IGF2 methylation as well as high total cholesterol levels among study participants.

The findings provide the first evidence that methylation of the IGF2 gene is linked to cholesterol levels.

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