Personalized diet: myth or reality
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"Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food" - Hippocrates, a Greek physician and The Father of Western medicine
One of the main factors that influences and shapes the health of all cats is nutrition. The idea behind he targeted nutrition is planning a personalized diet for cats based on its genetics, physique and lifestyle. In order to design a personalized diet, it is crucial to learn the role of genetics in diverse responses to different nutritional intakes. And two young fields of nutrigenomics and nutrigenetics may be hiding the answers we are all looking for.
What is nutrigenomics?
Let’s start with genomics. Genomics is the study of the genome. The genome is the complete genetic information of an organism. It contains the instructions for the synthesis of all the proteins which build the cells and carry out all the functions in the body through a complex net of numerous pathways. These genes are what determines all your cat’s traits that you love so much, from their eye color to their breed. The cat’s genome was fully sequenced and published in 2007 which opened the possibility to learn a lot more about the feline molecular mechanisms. The feline genome contains about 20,285 genes (for comparison, humans have 20,500 genes and dogs about 21,000).
However, environmental factors (e.g. nutrition) have an important impact on how this genetic information will be expressed in the phenotype. Nutrigenomics is a scientific study of the interactions between nutrition and the genome. This fairly young field sheds a completely new light on the traditional nutritional approaches with a particular regard to the prevention and treatment of disease.
How do nutrients and genome interact?
What are you all talking about?
While all the genes in the genome code for specific functional products (RNA and proteins), not all of them are active at the same time. Genes are activated and deactivated according to the cell’s requirements. This means that if there is a need for a certain protein, the genes coding for that protein will be up-regulated (they will be "turned on") and the protein will be synthesized. In the same way, if a protein isn’t required by the cell at the moment, the corresponding gene will be down-regulated ("turned off").
Different environmental factors, specifically diet, can change the gene expression positively or negatively. This means that diet shifts and different nutrients can either activate or suppress the activity of certain genes, ultimately changing the levels of the structural and functional proteins in the cells. By altering the levels of various proteins, the nutrients are modulating the physiological functions in the body. This can can be a beneficial or detrimental process for our cat’s well being.
How can I use nutrigenomics to design my cat’s diet?
The idea behind nutrigenomics is to acknowledge the nutrient-gene interactions and use this knowledge for prevention or treatment of specific conditions. Some nutrients will alter the gene expressions for the better or worse. Knowing the impact of each ingredient would allow us to formulate the diet with the nutrients that will carry the beneficial alterations of the gene activities for the specific cat to be healthier. For example, if we know that a certain cat breed is genetically more prone to a specific condition (e.g. obesity), we can look for the changes in gene activities that lead to the development of the disease. After this identification, we can test different diets and find the personalized fit for the predisposed cat which will prevent the targeted changes in gene expression and lower the risk of developing the condition.
What is nutrigenetics?
While nutrigenomics explores the influence of nutrients on gene expression, nutrigenetics studies the response of gene variants to different nutrients and ingredients. "Nutrigenetics describes that the genetic profile have impact on the response of body to bioactive food components by influencing their absorption, metabolism, and site of action." - Fahrud and Yeganeh in Nutrigenomics and Nutrigenetics.
Every cat possesses a unique genetic makeup. The perfect examples of individual variation in genetics associated with nutrition are enzyme deficiencies and specific nutrient requirements. It is very beneficial to find these variations and address them when planning the personalized pet diet.
Breed-based nutrition option
As mentioned in the beginning, personalized diet addresses the cat’s genetics, physique and lifestyle. While nutrigenomics and nutrigenetics are gathering knowledge and tools for designing the target diet according to the animal’s genetics, scientists have found a way to personalize the pet diet based on their breeds. Breed specific nutrition takes into account the physical characteristics of cat breeds (i.e. jaw and biting habits, body size and structure, the length and thickness of their coat), personality and physical activity and uses this information to tailor the diet that will provide the best possible nutrition.
There are many different examples of why cat diets can’t be uniform among breeds. Persians, for instance, have trouble grabbing dry food and have a unique method of grabbing pieces with the help of the underside of the tongue. Main Coons and Ragdolls, on the other hand, are characterized with a greater risk of developing joint problems due to their size. Diet rich in omega 3 fatty acids, glucosamine and chondroitin is usually recommended to these breeds. Persians and Ragdolls are at a higher risk from hairballs because of their thick and long coat, which specific diet may be able to reduce. Every breed has unique needs and predispositions that should be addressed accordingly.
Looking into the genetic information of felines and unraveling the breeds contributing to their pawesomeness can help you create just the right environment for them. Find out what breeds may be lurking in your cat’s genes and meet their needs. Design just the right diet and just for your special little feline. It’s not a myth anymore, it is now a reality.