A dysfunctional environment in childhood leads to adverse modifications in the epigenome

The place where a child grows can affect his health for many years to come. A long-term study of about 2,000 children found that those growing up in an area with greater economic deprivation, social disadvantage, and high risk to life, had adverse changes in DNA methylation: "included" in the "unwanted" genes associated with inflammation, craving for smoking and lung cancer. A scientific article about this has been published in JAMA Network Open.

The study confirms the scientists' opinion that the environment influences the regulation of genes, causing long-term changes in health status. Thus, in children, depending on their place of residence, epigenetic differences in genes were found to be related to chronic inflammation, exposure to tobacco smoke, air pollution, and the development of lung cancer. The authors concluded that a child's life in a deprived area increases the risk of health deterioration at a later age. Epigenetic differences persisted after taking into account the socio-economic conditions in families where children grew up and were observed in young people who did not smoke at all and showed no clear signs of inflammation.

These results suggest that children who look the same physically may experience changes at the cellular level that will affect their future condition. Geography and genes are working together, scientists say, and many negative health effects, including the development of mental disorders, obesity, and cancer, are associated with disadvantages in childhood.

June 22, 2020, 12:20 p.m.

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