Background: Nutrition is important for the fetal developmental programming. Nutritional deficiency in early life could increase the susceptibility to many aging-related disorders including cognitive decline.

Objective: Our study aims to investigate the effect of early famine exposure on aging-associated cognitive function.

Methods: We recruited 6790 subjects born between 1956 to 1964 during which the Great Chinese Famine occurred (1959-1961). Cognitive function of these subjects were evaluated using the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE), the Activities of Daily Living scale (ADL), the Instrumental Activities of Daily Living scale (IADL) and the Clinical Dementia Rating (CDR).

Results: Our study identified that early exposure to the famine significantly increased the risk of cognitive impairments in later life, leading to higher prevalence of Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) and dementia. We also found the sex and rural-urban differences in this malnutrition-induced effect. Illiteracy, history of stroke or diabetes mellitus are great risk factors to facilitate the cognitive decline.

Conclusion: These findings demonstrate that exposure to famine during early life including prenatal period and early childhood facilitates aging-associated cognitive deficits.

Keywords: Famine, malnutrition, early life, risk factor, mild cognitive impairment, dementia.

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