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Am J Clin Nutr. 2013 Jun;97(6):1217-27. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.112.048462. Epub 2013 Apr 10.

DNA methylation potential: dietary intake and blood concentrations of one-carbon metabolites and cofactors in rural African women.

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Medical Research Council (MRC) International Nutrition Group, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, London, United Kingdom.



Animal models show that periconceptional supplementation with folic acid, vitamin B-12, choline, and betaine can induce differences in offspring phenotype mediated by epigenetic changes in DNA. In humans, altered DNA methylation patterns have been observed in offspring whose mothers were exposed to famine or who conceived in the Gambian rainy season.


The objective was to understand the seasonality of DNA methylation patterns in rural Gambian women. We studied natural variations in dietary intake of nutrients involved in methyl-donor pathways and their effect on the respective metabolic biomarkers.


In 30 women of reproductive age (18-45 y), we monitored diets monthly for 1 y by using 48-h weighed records to measure intakes of choline, betaine, folate, methionine, riboflavin, and vitamins B-6 and B-12. Blood biomarkers of these nutrients, S-adenosylhomocysteine (SAH), S-adenosylmethionine (SAM), homocysteine, cysteine, and dimethylglycine were also assessed monthly.


Dietary intakes of riboflavin, folate, choline, and betaine varied significantly by season; the most dramatic variation was seen for betaine. All metabolic biomarkers showed significant seasonality, and vitamin B-6 and folate had the highest fluctuations. Correlations between dietary intakes and blood biomarkers were found for riboflavin, vitamin B-6, active vitamin B-12 (holotranscobalamin), and betaine. We observed a seasonal switch between the betaine and folate pathways and a probable limiting role of riboflavin in these processes and a higher SAM/SAH ratio during the rainy season.


Naturally occurring seasonal variations in food-consumption patterns have a profound effect on methyl-donor biomarker status. The direction of these changes was consistent with previously reported differences in methylation of metastable epialleles. This trial was registered at as NCT01811641.

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