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What causes epigenetic & developmental epigenetic changes?

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Many things can cause epigenetic and developmental epigenetic changes.

Environmental factors are one cause. These can include, but are not limited to1:

  • Exercise
  • Diet
    • High-fat diet. Animal studies have linked pregnant mothers’ high-fat diets to epigenetic changes and later development of tumors in their offspring.
    • Lack of essential vitamins and nutrients, such as choline, B vitamins, and folic acid. An NICHD-supported animal study linked lack of B vitamins and folate in pregnant mothers’ diets with epigenetic changes, obesity, and heart disease in their offspring.2
    • Intake of resveratrol (pronounced rez-VER-uh-trahl). This substance, found in red grapes and red wine, may help protect against cancer.
  • Nicotine, the drug that makes cigarettes addictive
  • Alcohol
  • Chemicals in the living space or workplace:
    • Asbestos, a toxic chemical that is sometimes found in older buildings
    • Bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical in many plastic containers, such as water bottles
  • Medications

These environmental factors are only a few examples of things that can cause epigenetic changes. Many other environmental factors, known and unknown, can cause epigenetic changes.

Some epigenetic changes appear to happen on their own, without any clear cause.

Some epigenetic changes happen as a result of certain types of chemical reactions in the body. Even some genes contribute to epigenetic changes.1


  1. Aguilera, O., Fernández, A. F., Muñoz, A., & Fraga, M. F. (2010). Epigenetics and environment: A complex relationship. Journal of Applied Physiology, 109, 243-251. Retrieved July 24, 2012, from http://jap.physiology.org/content/109/1/243.full.pdf External Web Site Policy (PDF - 582 KB) [top]
  2. Sinclair, K. D., Allegrucci, C., Singh, R., Gardner, D. S., Sebastian, S., Bispham, J., et al. (2007). DNA methylation, insulin resistance, and blood pressure in offspring determined by maternal periconceptional B vitamin and methionine status. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 104, 19351-19356. [top]

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Last Updated Date: 11/30/2012
Last Reviewed Date: 10/28/2013
Vision National Institutes of Health Home BOND National Institues of Health Home Home Storz Lab: Section on Environmental Gene Regulation Home Machner Lab: Unit on Microbial Pathogenesis Home Division of Intramural Population Health Research Home Bonifacino Lab: Section on Intracellular Protein Trafficking Home Lilly Lab: Section on Gamete Development Home Lippincott-Schwartz Lab: Section on Organelle Biology