Nutrigenomics. Scary word, right? It is purely a newer compounded word that even at the time of this writing, Microsoft Word does not recognize it in its dictionary. I want to take a moment to break it down and explain it to you.
- Nutri = Nutrition
- Genomics = A discipline in genetics that applies molecular technology to sequence, assemble, and analyze the function and structure of genomes (the complete set of DNA within a single cell of an organism).
- Nutrigenomics is simply a combination of the two. It is the science of how diet affects gene expression through the epigenome, which in turn alters our genetic predisposition toward health or to disease.
Microsoft Word also does not recognize “epigenome”! The epigenome is a structural layer that surrounds our DNA and the proteins to which they are attached. The epigenome initiates chemical reactions within cells that control gene expression, determining which genes are turned on or off and which proteins are produced. By changing a cell’s gene expression, the epigenome also changes the cell’s destiny, determining whether it will become a brain cell, a heart cell or a skin cell — and whether it will become a healthy cell or a diseased cell.
The challenge here is to affect gene expression in a healthy way and not create chronic inflammation and disease.
This is where food comes in. We now know that the epigenome is highly responsive to environmental signals — including diet. Just as we inherited our genes from our parents, our epigenome also has a cellular memory that can be passed from one generation to the next. This means that a mother and father’s lifestyle decisions — including the quality of their diet — will influence the epigenome of their offspring! Unlike the genome, however, we can alter our epigenome over time with new environmental signals, such as optimum nutrition. And that is exactly what you can learn to do with your dog’s diet!
The Basal Diet
In my book, co-authored with the wonderful Diana Laverdure, Canine Nutrigenomics: The New Science of Feeding Your Dog for Optimum Health (Dogwise; 2015), we apply the Basal Diet to this emerging science. The Basal Diet is not a “one size fits all” but a set of building blocks for each dog’s individual needs, lifestyle, environment, age and medical conditions. For instance, one of your canine companions may have heart disease and will need magnesium. Your neighbor’s dog may have chronic kidney disease and will not need additional magnesium. In essence, the Basal Diet strives to provoke a cell to respond in a healthy manner.
Dodds, W. Jean, and Diana Laverdure. Canine Nutrigenomics: The New Science of Feeding Your Dog for Optimum Health. N.p.: Dogwise, 2015. Print.
“Genomics.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 19 Feb. 2015.