High-Sugar Diet in Early Life Could Cause Lasting Changes to DNA

According to a new study, researchers found that our experiences early in life (even as early as the womb) can influence how our genes behave later in life. Gene expression (how genes act) can have a memory that can exist as long as the person does. The scientists discovered the mechanism which allows this process to unfold. This study may offer insight into how to improve health later on and the importance of curating healthy experiences as early as possible.

This study is a continuation of earlier research on fruit flies. It was discovered that fruit flies fed a lot of sugar earlier in their lives tended to die earlier than their non-sugar-eating counterparts (even when the fruit flies stopped eating sugar later in life).

What’s the mechanism behind this?

Diets high in sugar can change how glucose is metabolized in the body for the worse. More specifically, too much sugar disrupts dFOXO, a “transcription factor” or protein that controls longevity and helps regulate insulin signaling in our brain. Transcription factors help oversee the copying of information from our DNA to messenger RNA, which is the beginning of gene expression activity.

Scientists tried to create the opposite process – helping to increase dFOXO activity – by taking sugar out of the fruit flies’ diets when they were adults. However, the experiences which took place earlier on created changes to their DNA which sustained throughout their life and changed the way their genes were expressed when they were older.

Researchers feel these results are similar in humans. More research will be conducted by the team to better understand the biological processes of aging, with the expressed purpose of improving health later in life.

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