Projects: The role of nutrition in early life health and development

Adequate nutrition during pregnancy and early life is essential for normal growth and development. In addition, nutritional factors can interact with toxic compounds and thereby influence their toxic effects. Therefore, we also study the impact of nutritional factors such as selenium, iodine, zinc, iron, vitamins and BMI, a general marker of nutrition.

Selenium is as an essential component (mainly found in seafood, meat, eggs, and cereals) of antioxidant systems and the thyroid hormone metabolism. There is a large global variation in selenium intake, ranging from below the recommended intake in for example large parts of Europe, to recommended or higher than recommended intake in parts of South and North America. In our research we are assessing the impact of early life selenium status on child health and development.

Iodine is also essential for thyroid hormone production, required for fetal development. Severe iodine deficiency in pregnancy is associated with adverse pregnancy outcomes and impaired neurodevelopment. Therefore, salt iodization programs have been implemented globally. However, reports indicate emerging iodine deficiency in many European countries, including Sweden. Simultaneously, there are reports about excess iodine intake in Asia. The consequences of moderate-to-mild iodine deficiency, and excess iodine early in life on child health and development remain conflicting. Thus, we aim to elucidate this further in our ongoing studies.

One-carbon metabolism is important for delivering methyl groups to inorganic arsenic for biotransformation and detoxification. We study the importance of specific nutritional factors and diets for methylation of arsenic, specifically early in life.

The uterine environment is important for telomere length at birth, which, in turn, influences disease susceptibility throughout life. However, little is known about the importance of specific nutritional factors. Therefore, we evaluate the involvement of multiple nutritional factors in the maintenance of cellular telomere length in pregnancy and early life.


  • Swedish Research Council Formas
  • Karolinska Institutet

Selected Articles

Placental and Cord Blood Telomere Length in Relation to Maternal Nutritional Status. Vahter M, Broberg K, Harari F. J Nutr. 2020: nxaa198. doi: 10.1093/jn/nxaa198.

Vitamin B-6 Intake Is Modestly Associated with Arsenic Methylation in Uruguayan Children with Low-Level Arsenic Exposure. Desai G, Vahter M, Queirolo EI, Peregalli F, Mañay N, Millen AE, Yu J, Browne RW, Kordas K. J Nutr. 2020; 150(5):1223-1229. doi: 10.1093/jn/nxz331.

Associations between Methylated Metabolites of Arsenic and Selenium in Urine of Pregnant Bangladeshi Women and Interactions between the Main Genes Involved.  Skröder H, Engström K, Kuehnelt D, Kippler M, Francesconi K, Nermell B, Tofail F, Broberg K, Vahter M. Environ Health Perspect. 2018; 126(2):027001.

Predictors of selenium biomarker kinetics in 4-9-year-old Bangladeshi children.  Skröder H, Kippler M, De Loma J, Raqib R, Vahter M. Environ Int. 2018; 121(Pt 1):842-851.

Early-Life Selenium Status and Cognitive Function at 5 and 10 Years of Age in Bangladeshi Children.  Skröder H, Kippler M, Tofail F, Vahter M. Environ Health Perspect. 2017; 125(11):117003.

Impact of prenatal exposure to cadmium on cognitive development at preschool age and the importance of selenium and iodine.  Kippler M, Bottai M, Georgiou V, Koutra K, Chalkiadaki G, Kampouri M, Kyriklaki A, Vafeiadi M, Fthenou E, Vassilaki M, Kogevinas M, Vahter M, Chatzi L.  Eur J Epidemiol. 2016; 31(11):1123-1134.

Selenium metabolism to the trimethylselenonium ion (TMSe) varies markedly because of polymorphisms in the indolethylamine N-methyltransferase gene. Kuehnelt D, Engström K, Skröder H, Kokarnig S, Schlebusch C, Kippler M, Alhamdow A, Nermell B, Francesconi K, Broberg K, Vahter M. Am J Clin Nutr. 2015; 102(6):1406-15.

Maternal urinary iodine concentration up to 1.0 mg/L is positively associated with birth weight, length, and head circumference of male offspring. Rydbeck F, Rahman A, Grandér M, Ekström EC, Vahter M, Kippler M. J Nutr. 2014; 144(9):1438-44.

Urinary iodine concentrations of pregnant women in rural Bangladesh: a longitudinal study. Rydbeck F, Bottai M, Tofail F, Persson LÅ, Kippler M. J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol. 2014; 24(5):504-9.

Contact person

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Maria Kippler

Senior Lecturer
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Marie Vahter

Content reviewer:
Anna Persson