Can Diet Change a Dog’s Genes to Fat Burning from Fat Storing?
The idea of functional foods and, specifically, nutrogenomics (the study of how food and nutrition can impact gene expression), suggests that food can have a direct and marked impact on a person’s or pet’s health. One interesting study, performed at Hills Pet Nutrition, found that specific foods could change a dog’s genes and turn an obese dog’s body from fat storing to fat burning.
Diet and the Obesity Genes in Dogs
The Hill’s study was based on the work of Hill’s scientist Dr. Ryan Yamka. Yamka had previously conducted studies including one that compared differently formulated weight loss foods to weight loss and gene expression, and his prior work which identified the gene expressions of overweight vs. lean dogs. In the food comparison study, Yamka et al. concluded that a diet with a higher lysine (an essential amino acid) to calorie ratio and lower total fiber but higher soluble fiber would not only preserve muscle mass upon weight loss, but it would also alter the gene expressions of markers related to obesity. This research supported the idea that diet could change a dog’s body, through gene expression, to one that tended toward leanness vs. obesity, when compared to its pre-diet state and even when compared with other dogs fed a normal low calorie weight loss diet.
The follow up Hill’s study looked at the weight loss and gene markers in seven obese Beagles. This study was not comparing different diets, but rather was meant to confirm that high lysine to calorie diets could result in weight loss and a change in obesity gene expressions. The researcher’s findings are summarized below.
On average, dogs lost 2.8 ± 0.8 kg body fat (41.2% of initial fat mass) in 4 months. In addition, gene expression profiles were modified in these dogs after 4 months of weight loss on the food. The nutrigenomic effect of the food can be seen in the shift from an obese to a lean profile. Of the genes identified, there was a down regulation of genes associated with fat accumulation.
The Hill’s study and the prior work both support the idea that food can impact gene expression and help to change a body to have less obesity tendencies. The research also raises a handful of questions in my mind.
First of all, I wonder if the obese dogs were born with the gene expression profiles that they presented with at the time of the study, or did these develop over time due to over- and poor- feeding patterns? If the latter, would a high quality, calorie restricted diet, over the long term, in and of itself modify the dog’s gene expression back to a more “normal” level? Obviously, in order to test this, a study would need to capture blood work throughout adulthood for a set of subject dogs and compare the markers for dogs that remained lean with those that ended up getting fat.
The second question is whether or not the biomarkers in the blood samples would reflect actual changes in the bodies fat cells. In other words, is it certain that changes in the blood markers mean that the actual cells themselves were less prone to fat storage?
The third question is related to the specific food that was used- the Hill’s Prescription Diet r/d Canine. In the next installment of this piece, I will examine this food and make my own conclusions on the appropriateness of it as a healthy weight loss tool.
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