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J Nutr. 2013 Jul;143(7):1147-54. doi: 10.3945/jn.113.175877. Epub 2013 May 22.

Animal protein intakes during early life and adolescence differ in their relation to the growth hormone-insulin-like-growth-factor axis in young adulthood.

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  • 1IEL-Nutritional Epidemiology, University of Bonn, DONALD Study at the Research Institute of Child Nutrition, Dortmund, Germany.


Recent studies provide evidence that insulin-like-growth-factor I (IGF-I) and its binding proteins (IGFBP) IGFBP-2 and IGFBP-3 are related to the risk of several common cancers. It remains to be clarified whether their concentrations can be programmed by protein intake from different sources during growth. This study addressed the hypothesis that animal protein intakes during infancy, mid-childhood, and adolescence differ in their relevance for the growth-hormone (GH)-IGF-I axis in young adulthood. Data from the Dortmund Nutritional and Anthropometric Longitudinally Designed Study participants with at least 2 plausible 3-d weighed dietary records during adolescence (age: girls, 9-14 y; boys, 10-15 y; n = 213), around the adiposity rebound (age 4-6 y; n = 179) or early life (age 0.5-2 y; n = 130), and one blood sample in young adulthood were included in the study. Mean serum concentrations of IGF-I, IGFBP-1, IGFBP-2, and IGFBP-3 were compared between tertiles of habitual animal protein intake using multivariable regression analysis. Habitually higher animal protein intakes in females during puberty were related to higher IGF-I (P-trend = 0.005) and IGFBP-3 (P-trend = 0.01) and lower IGFBP-2 (P-trend = 0.04), but not to IGFBP-1 in young adulthood. In turn, IGF-I concentrations in young adulthood were inversely related to animal protein intakes in early life among males only (P-trend = 0.03), but not to animal protein intake around adiposity rebound (P-trend > 0.5). Our data suggest that, among females, a habitually higher animal protein intake during puberty may precipitate an upregulation of the GH-IGF-I axis, which is still discernible in young adulthood. By contrast, among males, higher animal protein intakes in early life may exert a long-term programming of the GH-IGF-I axis.

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