Non-communicable diseases pose an important health concern across the globe. They may even result in sudden death and include conditions such as heart disease, stroke, cancers, etc.
Robert Barouki and colleagues presented a white paper that was published in BMC Environmental Health, 2012, highlighting the developmental origins of non-communicable diseases and their implications for research and public health policies.
AdvertisementThe authors suggest that an increase in non-communicable diseases in the recent years is due to the interaction of environment with the genetic makeup of the individual especially in the developmental stages. These environmental factors include nutrition, infections, the microbiome, drugs, chemicals, and stress and could have either beneficial or adverse effects on the individual.
If the environmental change is strong and sudden, and affects an individual during the developmental phase, it results in grave consequences like death, birth defects, and low birth weight. If the change is more subtle, they may result in disease later in life.
Nutrition is an important factor that could be associated with future diseases. Maternal malnutrition results in reduced nutrition to the fetus during the developmental stages. In some instances, such conditions were associated with metabolic syndrome in later life. Unbalanced nutrition while the child is in the uterus has been associated with obesity in adulthood. Maternal obesity could also influence the babies in later life.
Environmental chemicals and drugs like alcohol and thalidomide can have serious consequences on the developing fetus without affecting the mother. Exposure to low doses of some chemicals may not cause fetal malformations but may predispose them to diseases later in adulthood. For example, exposure to chemicals like phthalates, bisphenol A, and tributyltins can lead to obesity and type 2 diabetes in later life.
The paper states that early development (prenatal life and the first few years of postnatal life) is highly susceptible to developmental disruption by environmental chemical and nutritional factors. These factors have harmful and unpleasant impact in the later part of life. Preventive policies should be formulated to target these factors during the early developmental stages.
Developmental origins of non-communicable disease: Implications for research and public health; Robert Barouki et al; BMC Environmental Health 2012