Nutrigenomics. Holy Cat! You Really Are What You Eat!

Nutrigenomics is a field of study that combines nutrition and genetics with the goal of using nutrition to prevent chronic diseases. Scientists completed the mapping of the human genome in 2003, and have since discovered that what you eat can influence your genes!

The link between food and health is well documented but people still struggle to find the right balance

The Tiniest Tiger logo with glasses

This is Thinking Gracey. When you see this image, you might want a "thinking beverage" and/or a nap.

between diet (energy going in) and exercise (energy going out). Some eat too little in either variety or quantity leading to malnutrition and some eat too much leading to obesity.

In 2004, Hill’s Pet Nutrition brought together the building, lab equipment and scientific expertise to begin a Nutrigenomics Research Program. Findings from the Nutrigenomics lab at the Pet Nutrition Center help Hill’s understand how nutrients and ingredients in pet foods interact with genes, proteins and metabolites in the body. The next step is to understand how to capture these interactions for the benefit of a cat or dog’s health.

Hill’s Nutrigenomics research program provides the scientists with a better understanding of disease and aging. This research enables the scientists to identify the specific nutrients that return these processes to a healthy state, so that they can develop new formulas that help improve a cat’s quality of life.

It is true that nothing in food can change the genes that you are born with, but nutrition can influence how those genes function. The research in progress at Hill’s has given them an exceptional understanding of the molecular basis of disease and health, the biochemical response to food, and the biochemical action of nutrients.

Heat maps provide researchers with a graphical representation of gene expression. Each column represents an individual animal and each row represents an individual gene. In Image 1 below, the heat map on the left illustrates gene expression in obese dogs.  The middle panel demonstrates how nutrition changes gene expression in the obese dogs to reflect gene expression similar to that of lean dogs; the panel on the right.

Hill's Pet Nutrition Heat Map

Image 1- Heat Map with Graphical Representation of Gene Expression

In this example, you will see that genes that are blue or down regulated in the lean dogs are expressed in the opposite direction, red for up-regulated, in the obese dogs. These red up-regulated genes are generally pro-inflammatory genes.  Below these genes in the heat map you can see the opposite effect; genes that are up-regulated in lean dogs and down-regulated in obese dogs. These are the energy genes. (See Image 2- Reading “Heat Maps” at the bottom of this post.)

Whoa!  By now you might be saying,  “Doggone it Gracey, what does this mean?”

What this heat map tells us is the lean dogs are programmed biochemically to burn fat while the obese dogs are programmed biochemically to store fat. Energy metabolism is turned down in obese dogs just like we can turn down a dimmer  on a light switch. This  information helps us understand the specific gene expression that we want to alter with nutrition to change a dog’s and  a cat’s too,  profile from fat storing to fat burning!  And as if this isn’t exciting enough, Hill’s uses other tools such as mass spectrometers to determine the types of proteins and metabolites representing different disease states.

Nutrigenomics is driving Hill’s new product development.  By  identifying the effects of food and food components, it offers unprecedented opportunities to develop innovative new formulations that address specific conditions and improve health.

Dr. Carter at Hill's Pet Nutrition Center

Dr. Carter discussing Nutrigenomics with a Friend.

Hill’s Prescription Diet® j/d/ Canine was the first product developed  by Hill’s using Nutrigenomics principles.  Yes, the canine formula was first. When it comes to research, we cats are just polite like that.  We usually look at the dogs and say, “No really, after you. I insist.”

Through research and clinical studies, Hill’s discovered that eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) could down-regulate a gene for aggrecanase, the degenerative enzyme that is involved in cartilage breakdown.  This breakdown of cartilage leads to difficulties in moving and joint stiffness with arthritis.  With its high concentration of EPA and other nutrients, Hill’s Prescription Diet® j/d Canine is clinically proven to improve mobility in dogs.

Nutrigenomics is changing the way Hill’s Pet Nutrition thinks about nutrients and how they can be used to design exceptional food for cats and dogs.

Reading "Heat Maps" Hill's Pet Nutrition

Image 2- Reading "Heat Maps"

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  1. Cats are polite Gracey! And this is a great explanation of a somewhat confusing topic. Thanks!

  2. http://Magwhisk says

    Wow Gracey, you really have been doing your homework!  Very interesting!!!  Thanks for taking the time to share with us!!!  xoxox