Epigenome-wide association study of diet quality in the Women’s Health Initiative and TwinsUK cohort

Whitney L. Do*, Eric A. Whitsel, Ricardo Costeira, Olatz M. Masachs, Caroline I. Le Roy, Jordana T. Bell, Lisa R. Staimez, Aryeh D. Stein, Alicia K. Smith, Steve Horvath, Themistocles L. Assimes, Simin Liu, Jo Ann E. Manson, Aladdin H. Shadyab, Yun Li, Lifang Hou, Parveen Bhatti, Kristina Jordahl, K. M. Venkat Narayan, Karen N. Conneely

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Background: Diet quality is a risk factor for chronic disease and mortality. Differential DNA methylation across the epigenome has been associated with chronic disease risk. Whether diet quality is associated with differential methylation is unknown. This study assessed whether diet quality was associated with differential DNA methylation measured across 445 548 loci in the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) and the TwinsUK cohort. Design: The discovery cohort consisted of 4355 women from the WHI. The replication cohort consisted of 571 mono- and dizygotic twins from the TwinsUK cohort. DNA methylation was measured in whole blood using the Illumina Infinium HumanMethylation450 Beadchip. Diet quality was assessed using the Alternative Healthy Eating Index 2010 (AHEI-2010). A meta-analysis, stratified by study cohort, was performed using generalized linear models that regressed methylation on AHEI-2010, adjusting for cell composition, chip number and location, study characteristics, principal components of genetic relatedness, age, smoking status, race/ethnicity and body mass index (BMI). Statistical significance was defined as a false discovery rate < 0.05. Significant sites were tested for replication in the TwinsUK cohort, with significant replication defined by P < 0.05 and a consistent direction. Results: Diet quality was significantly associated with differential DNA methylation at 428 cytosine-phosphate-guanine (CpG) sites in the discovery cohort. A total of 24 CpG sites were consistent with replication in the TwinsUK cohort, more than would be expected by chance (P ¼ 2.7x10-4), with one site replicated in both the blood and adipose tissue (cg16379999 located in the body of SEL1L). Conclusions: Diet quality was associated with methylation at 24 CpG sites, several of which have been associated with adiposity, inflammation and dysglycaemia. These findings may provide insight into pathways through which diet influences chronic disease.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)675-684
Number of pages10
JournalInternational journal of epidemiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2021


  • EWAS
  • Epigenome
  • Women’s Health Initiative
  • diet quality
  • dietary epigenetics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology


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