Glasgow & West Scotland

DNA shows link to ill health in Glasgow

Formation of a red blood cell
Image caption Scientists find a potential link between deprivation and ill health.

New research into DNA has shown that the health of deprived Glaswegians could be impaired before they are even born.

Scientists examined the DNA of 239 people from across the socio-economic spectrum.

The research found that Glasgow's most deprived residents had an increased chance of developing diabetes and cardiovascular disease later in life.

The findings point to a genetic link between deprivation and ill health.

Blood samples analysed by experts from Glasgow University and the Glasgow Centre for Population Health found significant differences in the rates of a process called methylation.

Low levels of DNA methylation were linked to those from the most deprived backgrounds, and high levels to those from the least deprived.

DNA methylation is a natural process that ensures the body's cells express only the genes they are supposed to so that it works correctly and remains healthy.

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

'Significant finding'

Research leader Dr Paul Shiels, senior lecturer in epigenetics at Glasgow University, said: "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."

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