Thursday, July 5, 2012

Primer On Nutrigenomics

Nutrigenomics - The study of how different foods may interact with specific genes to increase the risk of common chronic diseases. Nutrigenomics seeks to provide a molecular understanding of how common chemicals in the diet affect health by altering the expression of genes and the structure of an individual’s genomes.
Source: DNA Nutrition Guide

Written by Peter Lopatin, reviewed by Amy I. Attas, V.M.D. 

The field of nutrigenomics is now being applied to animals. How can this help your dog? 

Every living thing, whether plant, animal or human, is what it is because of the genetic material—DNA— in its cells. DNA is active throughout the life of an organism, not just in its formation.

It is DNA—specifically, segments of DNA called genes—that guide each of your cells (and those of your dog) to perform their special functions. 

But in the "micro-world" of genes, as in the "macro-world" of machines, nothing is ever perfect. Every animal's genome— its unique genetic endowment—makes it susceptible, to one degree or another, to certain illnesses.

But while your dog may have a gene that makes some illness—say, arthritis or diabetes—more likely, it doesn't mean that that illness is inevitable. 

In the language of genetic science, if a diseased gene is not "expressed"— ie, switched on—it won't cause illness.

So, the big questions are:

1)  How do we keep the bad switches from being turned on?
2)  If such a switch is turned on, can we turn it off?

Enter, nutrigenomics

The full answer to question #1 is still a matter of intensive scientific investigation. But it is becoming increasingly clear that diet can have a direct and dramatic effect on the expression—or suppression—of certain disease-causing genes in animals (and probably in people, as well). The answer to question #2 appears to be "yes,'' at least sometimes.

Nutrigenomics involves the use of nutrition to affect the expression or suppression of certain genes to prevent or treat certain diseases. 

The science of nutrigenomics is still a new one, but it has already resulted in practical dietary approaches to the prevention and treatment of particular diseases in dogs and cats.

Getting specific

At this summer's annual meeting of the American Veterinary Medical Association, several papers were presented on the use of nutrigenomics for the treatment and prevention of some common pet diseases, as well as for health maintenance in both senior dogs and puppies.


Ron McLaughlin, DVM, and Kevin Hahn, DVM, gave a presentation titled "Cracking the Code: How Nutrigenomics Can Benefit Your Patients.'' Their findings were exciting and encouraging.

McLaughlin and Hahn reported that for both dogs and cats, switching to a diet supplemented with omega-3 fatty acids (from fish oil), anti-oxidants, and the cartilage-protecting substances glucosamine and chondroitin can produce clinically significant improvement in osteoarthritis. They emphasized, however, that this regimen should be combined with a program of weight control, appropriate exercise, overall good nutrition, and pain medication, if necessary.

Hahn reported that the addition of these supplements can reduce the expression of the genes associated with the breakdown of cartilage that characterizes osteoarthritis.

Senior dogs

Wayne Carter, DVM, and Susan G. Wynn, DVM, reported on "Genomics and Senior Pets.'' They noted that the expression of certain genes associated with the loss of mental function in senior dogs can be reduced and cognitive function improved with the use of a diet supplemented with vitamins E and C, lipoic acid, flavonoids, and bioflavonoids. Carter and Wynn cited a study of 48 beagles, divided into a control group fed a base diet and a test group fed a base diet with various supplements. The dogs fed the supplemented food "showed enhanced learning ability [and] reduced oxidative damage.''


Steve Zicker, DVM (principal scientist at Hill's Pet Nutrition) and Mitchell Abrahamsen, Ph.D., Hill's vice president for research, presented their findings on "Feeding for the Future: Genomic Insights and Puppies and Kittens.''

Their findings suggest that in puppies fed diets supplemented with specific omega-3 fatty acids, the expression of genes associated with a number of diseases, including muscular diseases and cancer, was decreased, while the expression of genes associated with proper muscle contraction increased. Other studies have shown health benefits in kittens, as well.

Take the question up with your vet. 

If your pet is old, sick, or infirm, ask if nutrigenomic supplementation or switching to one of the commercially available, therapeutic, nutrigenomic diets might be helpful. Consider consulting with a veterinary nutritionist certified by the American College of Veterinary Nutrition, if there is one in your area. (For a list of ACVN member veterinarians, click here.)

Finally, remember that as exciting as these developments are, it is a serious mistake to attempt to treat your dog's illness—or to supplement your healthy dog's diet—without first consulting with your veterinarian. This is a developing area of veterinary science, and your dog's health is too precious to experiment with.

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