Healthy living

Glaswegians poor health may start in the womb

Glaswegians poor health may start in the womb Linked to DNA

The health of Glasgow's most deprived people could be impaired before they are even born, according to new research.

Scientists from Glasgow University found important differences in the DNA of people who live in some of the most deprived areas of Scotland's biggest city, which could increase their risk of developing chronic health problems such as heart disease and diabetes.

The research team examined DNA samples taken from 239 people selected from some of the most affluent and deprived areas of Glasgow.

When the DNA from both groups was compared, the scientists found "significant differences" in the levels of DNA methylation.

DNA methylation is a natural process which controls gene expression and ensures that cells express only the genes they are supposed to, so that the body works correctly and remains healthy.

However, lower levels of methylation can impair this process, and are known to increase a person's chances of developing diabetes and cardiovascular disease later in life.

The majority of DNA methylation content is fixed for life in humans just a few weeks after conception, as the structure of the body and organs is formed.

Dr Paul Shiels, a senior lecturer in epigenetics at the university, said: "We found that levels of DNA methylation were significantly lower in the samples from the most deprived areas than they were in those from the least deprived, and those samples also showed signs of an elevated risk of cardiovascular disease.

"Methylation levels decline throughout everyone’s life as part of the natural process of ageing, and can be slightly affected in adulthood by external factors such as diet, stress and lifestyle.

"Those external factors have a much greater effect on babies developing in the womb, affecting the enzymes which allow DNA methylation to occur, so it’s very likely that the significantly lower levels of methylation we’re seeing in the most deprived areas of the city are set before birth.

"It's a significant finding and may provide part of the explanation as to why many Glaswegians suffer such poor health in comparison to people in other cities in the UK and across Europe."

The study is published in the International Journal of Epidemiology.

This article was published on Tue 24 January 2012

Image © Louise McGilviray -

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