Epigenetic phenomena are changes in phenotype that are due to resetting of gene expression under the influence of the environment or genetic factors without changing the DNA sequence. Usually this resetting occurs at a certain stage in life and remains fixed thereafter. In humans, evidence for epigenetic involvement in diet-related complex traits and disorders is accumulating. The fetal origins theory indicates that nutrition can influence the later life risk for certain common disorders like the metabolic syndrome. In parent-of-origin effects, the risk for a common disorder like type I diabetes depends on the sex of the parent who transmits genetic risk factors. Interestingly, both dietary and genetic factors can exert their epigenetic influence over several generations. Imprinting, i.e. silencing of one copy of an autosomal pair of genes, can be part of the mechanism pointing to the importance of DNA methylation. In addition, chromatin modifications have been shown to be involved in epigenetic manifestations. The intriguing possibility that diet may influence the direction and extent of epigenetic changes opens new ways for prevention or treatment of common disorders. At the same time, maternal nutrition might be used to actively direct fetal development with consequences for later life performance such as cognitive abilities. More knowledge on those novel applications is needed. This will in part come from novel strategies to map the epigenomic regions, allowing the identification of more genes involved in epigenetics and allowing the study of their response to nutrition.

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