JCCC Honors Journal


How Intrauterine Environmental Factors Influence Health and Disease

Once thought of as inconsequential, the prenatal period has recently acquired some awareness as being a sensitive time during which environmental factors can modulate gene expression as well as regulate fetal growth and development. The prenatal period encompasses the genesis of an embryo, the intricate process of fetal maturation, concludes with the birth of the infant, and is marked by the profound influence it exerts on long-term health trajectories. The notion that intrauterine environmental factors can reset physiological parameters “and the resetting can endure into adulthood and even affect the following generation” is known as “fetal programming” (Agin, 2010, p. 6 -7). This is a fairly new concept that offers encouraging insight into the origins of some of the most prevalent ailments that affect the population. Numerous research studies have demonstrated the correlation between maternal circumstances and fetal consequences; some of which include prenatal stress with mental health disorders, maternal body mass index with cardiovascular disease, and under or over nutrition with metabolic disorders. Thus, the fetal programming paradigm provides the opportunity to take preventative measures against the known factors to ensure a more favorable health outcome for future generations; however, in order to gain a better understanding of the complex biological mechanisms underlying the fetal programming concept, more applied research needs to be conducted.