Research Summary

Life course programming of stress responses in young adults in India: A multi-faceted approach to explore mediating factors and develop interventions

Early life nutrition may affect individuals’ susceptibility to adult non-communicable diseases (NCD). Both maternal undernutrition and gestational diabetes (GDM) increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and mental disorders in the offspring. This phenomenon may reflect permanent effects (‘programming’) of unbalanced fetal nutrition on physiological systems. Stress is a well-recognised NCD risk factor. Disturbed fetal nutrition may alter normal stress reactivity, and increase disease risk. My study draws on the complementary strengths of three Indian birth cohorts with an overarching aim to understand modifiable factors that can reduce stress responses and guide the development of an integrated intervention to reduce stress, and therefore future risk of NCDs. I will measure stress-induced changes in salivary cortisol and cardiovascular parameters, and brain structure and specific gene functionality, among young participants from Mysore, Mumbai and Pune cohorts. I will test the effect of mothers’ pregnancy nutrition and diabetes on these measures. This research will confirm whether early nutrition has life-long effects on disease risk through increased stress reactivity. Adolescents are highly sensitive to stress. I will explore the potential to develop stress management measures for the future in youngsters through nutrition supplementation, and understanding their perceptions of stress and its management.