News FocusMysteries of Development

How Does Fetal Environment Influence Later Health?

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Science  07 Jun 2013:
Vol. 340, Issue 6137, pp. 1160-1161
DOI: 10.1126/science.340.6137.1160

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These days, there's broad agreement that the fetal world, the most rapid period of human growth and development, shapes one's risk of future disease, although how much influence it has remains uncertain. A key missing link is in the mechanism. What switches in the fetus, or the placenta that nourishes it, are flipped by a mother's diet or stress levels? In other words, how does fetal environment mold development? No matter what the stressor on the fetus, studies of people and animals suggest that the output is similar: a higher risk of type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease, insulin resistance, and high blood pressure.