a1 MRC Environmental Epidemiology Unit, University of Southampton, Southampton General Hospital, Southampton SO16 6YD, UK
The modification of ageing by nutritional intervention is well recognised. Post-weaning diet restriction is the only widely reproducible method to slow ageing, but the effects of prenatal and preweaning diet restriction have been less well characterised. There is some evidence that diet restriction instituted in utero or shortly after birth may have an opposite effect and be associated with increased ageing, and recent work suggests that it may shorten lifespan. Interest in this area has been rekindled by the growing body of epidemiological evidence showing that a number of age-related diseases are associated with poor growth and inadequate nutrition in early life. The relevance of this association to structural and functional ageing changes in different systems is now being considered. Work on musculo-skeletal ageing has demonstrated that loss of muscle strength and bone mass is greater in individuals who did not grow well in early life, and a range of studies suggests that maternal, developmental and nutritional factors are important. The underlying mechanisms remain speculative, and it remains to be determined whether they are system-specific or universal throughout the body. A new cohort of subjects aged between 60 and 70 years is being established to investigate how genetic factors interact with growth and nutritional influences to programme musculo-skeletal ageing in later life.