Scientific advances over the last century have generated compelling evidence of the primary and secondary effects of gestational, infant, and childhood conditions. These early environmental influences have the potential not only to impact an individual's health outcomes, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer, but also to confer various protections and risks to that individual's descendants. The immediate and extended ramifications of early environmental exposure bring an understanding of epidemiological impact on disease states and a hope for prevention. This review highlights the contributions of several key population studies and briefly explores specific environmental influences, including nutritional deficiencies, exposure to substances and infections, and adverse childhood experiences. Mechanisms of these influences (e.g. stress and epigenetics) are discussed, as well as possible means of mitigating their negative consequences. What this paper adds: Substance exposures in utero are associated with epigenetic changes and negative outcomes. Adverse childhood experiences in early childhood can induce HPA and epigenetic changes.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
- Developmental Neuroscience
- Clinical Neurology