Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences

, Volume 71, Issue 2, pp 271–285 | Cite as

You are what you eat, and so are your children: the impact of micronutrients on the epigenetic programming of offspring

  • Kimberly Vanhees
  • Indira G. C. Vonhögen
  • Frederik J. van Schooten
  • Roger W. L. Godschalk


The research field of fetal programming has developed tremendously over the years and increasing knowledge suggests that both maternal and paternal unbalanced diet can have long-lasting effects on the health of offspring. Studies implicate that macronutrients play an important role in fetal programming, although the importance of micronutrients is also becoming increasingly apparent. Folic acid and vitamins B2, B6 and B12 are essential for one-carbon metabolism and are involved in DNA methylation. They can therefore influence the programming of the offspring’s epigenome. Also, other micronutrients such as vitamins A and C, iron, chromium, zinc and flavonoids play a role in fetal programming. Since it is estimated that approximately 78 % of pregnant women in the US take vitamin supplements during pregnancy, more attention should be given to the long-term effects of these supplements on offspring. In this review we address several different studies which illustrate that an unbalanced diet prior and during pregnancy, regarding the intake of micronutrients of both mother and father, can have long-lasting effects on the health of adult offspring.


Fetal programming Epigenetics Maternal/paternal effect Transgenerational inheritance Micronutrients Flavonoids 



Aryl hydrocarbon receptor


Agouti viable yellow




Bisphenol A




DNA methyltransferases


Glutathione peroxidase


Glutathione S-transferase pi 1


Intracisternal A particles




Long interspersed nucleotide element


NAD(P)H dehydrogenase, quinone 1


Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons


Reactive oxygen species




Short interspersed nuclear element B1/2


Superoxide dismutase


UDP glucuronosyltransferase 1 family, polypeptide A6



This review was partly supported by the Network of Excellence ECNIS2, EU-FP7-KBBE-2010-4266198. We would also like to thank Matt Randall for carefully reading and editing the manuscript.

Conflicts of interest

All authors have read and approved the manuscript and declare no conflicts of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Basel 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kimberly Vanhees
    • 1
  • Indira G. C. Vonhögen
    • 1
  • Frederik J. van Schooten
    • 1
  • Roger W. L. Godschalk
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Toxicology, School for Nutrition, Toxicology and Metabolism (NUTRIM), Maastricht UMC+Maastricht UniversityMaastrichtThe Netherlands

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