Insights in Nutrition and Metabolism

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Mini Review - Insights in Nutrition and Metabolism (2023) Volume 7, Issue 5

Epigenetic effects of nutritional deficiencies: Impact on health.

Wang Hou*

Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, University of California, Berkeley, California, US

*Corresponding Author:
Wang Hou
Department of Molecular and Cell Biology
University of California, Berkeley
California, US

Received:29-Aug-2023,Manuscript No. AAINM-23-112858; Editor assigned: 01-Sept-2023, PreQC No. AAINM-23-112858(PQ); Reviewed:15-Sept-2023, QC No. AAINM-23-112858; Revised:20-Sept-2023, Manuscript No. AAINM-23-112858(R); Published:28-Sept-2023, DOI: 10.35841/aainm- 7.5.167

Citation: Hou W. Epigenetic effects of nutritional deficiencies: Impact on health. Insights Nutr Metab. 2023;7(5):167

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This article explores the intricate relationship between nutrition and epigenetics, shedding light on how deficiencies in key nutrients can leave a lasting mark on our genes and health. It discusses the epigenetic implications of deficiencies in essential nutrients such as folate, vitamin B12, vitamin D, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids. These nutritional deficiencies can lead to alterations in DNA methylation and histone modifications, impacting gene expression patterns and increasing the risk of various diseases. Understanding the epigenetic effects of nutritional deficiencies highlights the importance of maintaining a well-balanced diet and underscores the potential for personalized interventions to mitigate these risks and improve overall health outcomes.


Epigenetics, Nutritional deficiencies, DNA methylation, Histone modifications, Disease risk.


Nutrition is a fundamental pillar of human health, influencing growth, development, and overall well-being. Adequate intake of essential nutrients is critical for maintaining proper bodily functions. However, nutritional deficiencies can disrupt these processes and have far-reaching consequences, not only in the short term but also in the long term. In recent years, researchers have been uncovering a fascinating aspect of nutrition-related health issues - the epigenetic effects of nutritional deficiencies. This article explores the intricate relationship between nutrition and epigenetics, shedding light on how deficiencies in key nutrients can leave a lasting mark on our genes and health.

Before diving into the epigenetic effects of nutritional deficiencies, it's essential to grasp the concept of epigenetics. Epigenetics refers to heritable changes in gene function or expression that do not involve alterations to the underlying DNA sequence. These changes are like molecular switches that can turn genes on or off, determining whether a particular gene is active or silent.

Epigenetic modifications primarily consist of DNA methylation and histone modifications. DNA methylation involves the addition of a methyl group to the DNA molecule, typically at cytosine residues in a process known as methylation. This modification can inhibit gene transcription, effectively silencing the gene. Histone modifications, on the other hand, alter the structure of the proteins around which DNA is wrapped (histones), influencing how tightly or loosely the DNA is packaged. This, in turn, affects gene accessibility and transcription [1].

Nutritional deficiencies and epigenetic modifications

Nutrients are vital for the proper functioning of enzymes involved in DNA methylation, histone modification, and other epigenetic processes. When the body lacks essential nutrients, it struggles to maintain the delicate balance of epigenetic modifications, potentially leading to long-lasting alterations in gene expression. Let's delve into some key nutrients and their epigenetic implications when they are deficient [2].

Folate (Vitamin B9): Folate is crucial for DNA methylation, as it provides the methyl groups necessary for this process. A deficiency in folate can disrupt DNA methylation patterns, leading to hypomethylation in certain genes. This can have severe consequences, as hypomethylation is often associated with increased genomic instability and an elevated risk of various diseases, including cancer. Furthermore, inadequate folate intake during pregnancy can lead to neural tube defects in the developing fetus. This highlights the critical role of folate in epigenetic regulation during early development.

Vitamin B12: Vitamin B12 is another essential nutrient involved in DNA methylation. It acts as a cofactor for the enzyme methionine synthase, which plays a key role in generating methyl groups for DNA methylation reactions. Vitamin B12 deficiency can impair DNA methylation, leading to abnormal gene expression patterns. In adults, a deficiency in vitamin B12 has been linked to neurological disorders, such as cognitive decline and neuropathy, which can be partly attributed to epigenetic alterations in genes involved in brain function [3].

Vitamin D: Vitamin D has garnered attention not only for its role in bone health but also for its potential impact on epigenetics. Vitamin D receptors are present in many cells, including those in the immune system. Vitamin D deficiency has been associated with altered DNA methylation in immune-related genes, potentially contributing to autoimmune diseases and chronic inflammation. Additionally, vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy may lead to epigenetic modifications in genes related to fetal development, increasing the risk of developmental disorders in the offspring.

Zinc: Zinc is an essential micronutrient that participates in numerous cellular processes, including DNA repair and DNA methylation. A deficiency in zinc can disrupt the balance of DNA methylation and lead to epigenetic changes associated with increased cancer risk. Moreover, zinc deficiency has been linked to altered immune function, which may involve epigenetic modifications in immune-related genes, potentially contributing to immune system dysfunction.

Omega-3 fatty acids: Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fatty fish, flaxseeds, and walnuts, have garnered attention for their potential epigenetic effects. These fats are precursors to bioactive lipid molecules that can influence gene expression through epigenetic modifications. Research suggests that omega-3 fatty acids may have a protective role against certain cancers and inflammatory diseases by modulating epigenetic marks associated with inflammation and cell proliferation [4].

Long-term health implications

The epigenetic effects of nutritional deficiencies can have long-lasting implications for health and disease risk. Here are some of the ways in which these epigenetic alterations can manifest over time:

Increased disease risk: Epigenetic changes resulting from nutritional deficiencies can increase susceptibility to various diseases, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, and neurodegenerative disorders. For instance, altered DNA methylation patterns can activate oncogenes or silence tumor suppressor genes, promoting cancer development.

Transgenerational effects: Nutritional deficiencies during critical periods of development, such as pregnancy, can lead to epigenetic modifications that are passed on to future generations. This phenomenon, known as epigenetic inheritance, highlights the importance of maternal nutrition in shaping the epigenome of offspring.

Aging: Epigenetic alterations associated with nutrient deficiencies can accelerate the aging process. These changes can affect the expression of genes involved in cellular senescence, DNA repair, and inflammation, contributing to age-related health issues.

Immune dysfunction: Epigenetic modifications influenced by nutrient deficiencies can impair immune function, leading to increased susceptibility to infections and autoimmune diseases.

Neurological disorders: Nutritional deficiencies can impact the epigenetic regulation of genes involved in brain development and function, potentially contributing to neurological disorders and cognitive decline [5].


Nutrition plays a pivotal role in shaping our epigenome, the molecular system that regulates gene expression. Nutritional deficiencies can disrupt the delicate balance of epigenetic modifications, leading to lasting changes in gene expression patterns. These epigenetic effects have profound implications for health, increasing the risk of various diseases and influencing the aging process. To mitigate these risks, it is essential to prioritize a well-balanced diet that provides all the necessary nutrients. Additionally, understanding the epigenetic consequences of nutritional deficiencies highlights the importance of public health initiatives and policies that promote adequate nutrition, particularly during critical periods of development like pregnancy. As of epigenetics and nutrition continues to grow, we can anticipate more targeted interventions and personalized approaches to address the epigenetic effects of nutritional deficiencies, ultimately improving health outcomes and quality of life for individuals and future generations.


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