Research Briefs

Understanding the science behind DOHaD

Below are summaries of scientific studies that show how the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease (DOHaD) can predict chronic disease risk later in life.

  • The developmental origins of kidney disease
    Kidneys are truly amazing. Within each one there is a world with millions of tiny filtering units called nephrons. These complex and delicate workhorses filter our blood and help remove waste and excess fluid from our bodies. Every day about 200 quarts of blood pass through our nephrons. The blood is filtered, cleaned and returned to our bloodstream. All except about two quarts, that is, which gets excreted as urine. Babies who are born small, whether premature or full-term with a low birthweight, have fewer of these filtering units. This puts them at risk for kidney disease later in life. However, there are ways to protect every precious nephron at birth and into childhood. Read more
  • How the placenta responds to famine
    The placenta is an amazing organ that provides oxygen and nutrients to the growing baby, filters waste, provides immune system protections and functions as a gland, secreting important hormones during pregnancy. Placentas grow in response to environmental influences on the mother, including her access to - or lack of - nutrition. This research brief is a summary of observations made on 2,414 placentas of births that took place from 1943-1947 at the Wilhelmina Gasthuis hospital in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. This time period covers the Dutch Hunger Winter of 1944-45, also known as the Dutch famine. The placental effects of the famine were documented in detailed records kept at the hospital. Read more

  • How policy influences our health: analyzing policies through the DOHaD lens
    Public health policies are designed to improve community health and safety in ways that benefit every person. These policies have the potential to address structural inequities in society, which are some of the most important determinants of human health.  What if we were to analyze the impact policies have on human health, using a Developmental Origins of Health and Disease (DOHaD) lens? This is what researchers did, in a 2018 commentary in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public HealthRead more

  • Stress and the placenta: why our social environment matters
    The placenta provides all of the nutrient building blocks to create a new human being. Yet we actually know very little about it. It’s usually an afterthought – the afterbirth – something discarded and forgotten about. It turns out that growing an entire organ during pregnancy reveals more than we previously knew. Most importantly it determines how well the baby grows and is nourished. But there are numerous factors that help or hinder its ability to do its job – and many of these are related to the social environment of the mother. Read more
  • Breastfeeding and the microbiome
    Within our intestines is an ecosystem of some 100 trillion living microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses and fungi that play important roles like breaking down food, synthesizing vitamins and defending against pathogens - among other things. We call this ecosystem our intestinal ‘microbiome.’ It turns out that breastfeeding plays an important role in establishing a healthy microbiome in babies, which in turn has long-term implications for our overall health. Read more about a recent study that evaluated breastfeeding practices to determine how beneficial bacteria is shared from mother to baby.
  • How boys grow in the womb can put them more at risk for hypertension later in life
    In the womb, boys have a more dangerous growth strategy than girls. Boys grow more rapidly and invest less in placental growth, putting them at risk of becoming undernourished if maternal nutrients becomes scarce during pregnancy. Since the placenta both nourishes the baby and sustains itself, banking on adequate nutrition from the mother in lieu of a larger placenta is a risky strategy that can lead to hypertension later in life. Read more
  • Maternal hypertension and pre-eclampsia are not only potential warnings for heart disease risk in the mother – but also in the offspring.
    Women who’ve had pre-eclampsia are three to four times more at risk for high blood pressure later in life, and have double the risk for heart disease and stroke. They also have an increased risk of developing diabetes. This research brief provides an overview of a recent article published in the April 2020 edition of the Journal of the American Heart Association. Read more
  • Weight at two years of age is linked to elevated risks for heart disease, insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome later in life.
    Investigators tested the hypothesis that the levels of these three hormones in healthy 20-year-olds was related to their growth patterns in childhood.  Read more about the results of this study, published in the February 2020 Journal of Endocrinology.