Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Nutrition: Is it Directed by Modern Science, Ancient Code or Both? Meg SmartDVM, PhD

To understand nutrition a nutritionist must keep an open mind and be familiar with many of the disciplines that impact on or are influenced by nutrition. The following is an incomplete list:
·       Soil and plant sciences
o   Factors that impact on nutrient availability
·       Animal science:
o   behaviour
o   environment, climate, housing
o   water quality and supply
·       Veterinary Medicine
o   livestock and pet wellness
o   toxicology
o   immunology
o   physiology and patho- physiology  
·       Cellular  biology
·       Microbiology
·       Genetics

The following definitions apply to the topics that I will be covering in this paper (These definitions with much more detail can be found in Wikipedia):
·       Epigenetics:
o   “Functionally relevant changes to the genome that do not involve a change in the nucleotide sequence. Examples of mechanisms that produce such changes are DNA methylation and histone modification, each of which alters how genes are expressed without altering the underlying DNA sequence. Gene expression can be controlled through the action of repressor proteins that attach to silencer regions of the DNA. These epigenetic changes may last through cell divisions for the duration of the cell's life, and may also last for multiple generations even though they do not involve changes in the underlying DNA sequence of the organism instead, non-genetic factors cause the organism's genes to behave (or "express themselves") differently”

·       Nutrigenomics:
o    the scientific study of the interaction of nutrition and genes, especially with regard to the prevention or treatment of disease
o   is the study of the effects of foods and food constituents on gene expression
·       Metabolomics:
o   The scientific study of the set of metabolites present within an organism, cell, or tissue.  
o   is the "systematic study of the unique chemical fingerprints that specific cellular processes leave behind"
o    The metabolome represents the collection of all metabolites in a biological cell, tissue, organ or organism, which are the end products of cellular processes
·       Generational effects of nutrition
All natural ecosystems experience variability in food availability necessitating organisms to adapt to these times of shortages through phenotypic plasticity depending on the life stage involved especially during a juvenile state and can cause irreversible changes in them in adult hood or even further into the next generation.
·       Nutriepigenomics:
Is the study of food nutrients and their effects on human health through epigenetic modifications. There is now considerable evidence that nutritional imbalances during gestation and lactation are linked to non-communicable diseases, such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension, and cancer. If metabolic disturbances occur during critical time- windows of development, the resulting epigenetic alterations can lead to permanent changes in tissue and organ structure or function and predispose individuals to disease

Now I’m retired, I have time to reflect on my career which evolved around studying   those factors within the environment and diet that impact the health of all life forms from the smallest single celled microorganisms to the very complex multicellular organisms.
When I taught, I told my students that nutrition is a cornerstone for all scientific research. If research is done on a live organism then that research is first and foremost a nutritional experiment. Unfortunately this concept is not held by the scientific community that studies the impact of their experimental design on the life forms they study. The diets for these animals are usually commercial diets formulated based on the book requirements of the species, but not necessarily the genetic groups the researchers are using. The argument is if the diets are the same for all treatment groups then there is not a problem as they are investigating the impact that a certain pharmaceutical, vaccine, genetic mutation, or myriad other alterations have on a certain outcome. But what if the genetic mutations have different nutrient requirements than the original organism, could this impact negatively or positively on the outcome of the research result? We have determined through research what the basic nutrient requirements are for many species of plants and animals.  But these survived, grew and reproduced on foods long before nutrient requirements were known.

Evolutionary Adaptation of Life (A simplistic view)
In the beginning our planet, was a molten sea of lava, with the beginnings of sea water and an atmosphere primarily of methane toxic to any organisms requiring oxygen. Over time continents started to form when some of the lava came to the surface of these shallow oceans and solidified providing a nidus for the formation of iron fixing microorganisms to develop. These microorganisms flourished in this environment eventually forming a more hospitable atmosphere of oxygen, nitrogen and carbon dioxide. The next step in the evolutionary process was the formation of soft bodied multicellular organisms as life evolved by adapting genetically and physiologically to changing nutrient availability and environments. The organisms became more complex physiologically but the individual cell although specializing in function still contained important cellular and genetic materials from their past necessary if needed for survival.

 Fast forward over a billion years of evolution to life on the planet today with each life form carrying with it this ancient innate code for survival.
Wikipedia’ definition of this ancient innate code is  linked to the immune system “The innate immune system, also known as the nonspecific immune system...The cells of the innate system recognize and respond to pathogens in a generic way, but, unlike the adaptive immune system (which is found only in vertebrates), it does not confer long-lasting or protective immunity to the host.  The Innate immune systems provide immediate defense against infection, and are found in all classes of plant and animal life. They include both humoral immunity components and cell-mediated immunity components. The innate immune system is an evolutionary older defense strategy, and is the dominant immune system found in plants, fungi, insects, and primitive multi cellular organisms. This innate code for survival relies on the organisms taking in proper balance of nutrients that will help it maintain normal metabolic processes and sustain health and reproduction of the organism as well dictating the time of death.

The Historical Basis of Modern Nutrition
 Now let’s explore the evolution of the science of nutrition from a historical human perspective:
  • ·       One of the first comments about nutrition was made by Hippocrates (460-364 BC) whose view was philosophical and not based on science “growing bodies have the most innate heat; they therefore require most food, for otherwise their bodies are wasted. In old persons, the heat is feeble and therefore they require fuel as it were to the flame, for that will be extinguished by much….”
  • ·       During the middle Ages the science of alchemy prevailed with the hope of transforming common metals into gold.
  • ·        By the 16th century man developed an interest in studying his relationship with the environment particularly the air surrounding us. Sanctorious (1561-1636) described “insensible perspiration” as the major pathway of excretion from the body.
  • ·       The phlogiston theory of combustion was the next step this was promoted by Stahl (1660-1734) this theory maintains all materials when burned contained phlogiston which passed from them into the atmosphere when burned.
  • ·        Antoine Lavoisier (1743-1794) was one of the first to challenge this theory as he applied his theory of combustion to the origin of animal heat establishing the beginning of the law of conservation of mass
  • ·        Lusk1928 described respiration as slow combustion of carbon and hydrogen.
·        From these experiments our knowledge of nutrition, nutrients and nutritional requirements escalated. Unfortunately, the road was still cluttered with misconceptions.
·        Voit 1881 started to unravel the mysteries of cellular metabolism and its relationship to heat production and conservation, thus leading to the determination of the caloric values of foods.

My interpretation of this information and experience is that because of this ancient innate code, a complex system of communication has been established among the immune and endocrine systems and with the beneficial but vulnerable microorganisms that protect our internal and external exposed surfaces of our bodies. The role that adaptation and genetics play cannot be ignored. The health and balance of these microbiomes can be disrupted by antibiotics, other pharmaceuticals, enteric diseases (bacterial, fungal, protozoal, parasitic) refined carbohydrates, overly processed foods, synthetic vitamins and other ingested substances.   When all three work well together---the immune, endocrine and microbiome-dependent digestive systems--- wellness ensues.

What role does nutrition play? Nutrition essential to life is a significant trigger!  Good nutrition did not start with the advent of nutritional requirements and governmental food guides. Nutrition evolved and adapted as life changed biologically,  culturally and bioregionally. Nutritional requirements and governmental food guides are biased and  over time have been proven wrong. Problems occur  related to cultural ignorance and the marketing  and widespread consumption of the “four white evils”---refined flour, sugar, salt and hydrogenated fat. Overly processed foods, the use of artificial preservatives, and the use of chemicals generally recognized as safe are permitted so long as the food  balanced to a nutritional standard. The modern diet tends to focus on the nutrients present rather than the quality and completeness of the food. In processed foods any deficiencies are made up by the addition of single or multiple vitamin, mineral, and amino acid supplements. The "evolutionary diet" consists of whole foods that either brings with them the triggers or the precursor’s to activate or support the ancient code. 

Modern nutrition accepts that “if it looks like a tomato it must be a tomato” .Modern advances in food production are related to man’s intervention through the use of herbicides, insecticides, and genetic modification and chemically balanced fertilizers. The ancient innate code benefited all living organisms while the modern code benefits those selected life forms deemed by man to be useful. A conflict is created. DNA sequencing supports the fact that all living organisms share a high percentage of DNA. We share 50% of DNA with bananas.

 For over one billion years life relied on the nutrients in the diet (protein {nitrogen, essential amino acids}, fat {saturated, mono and polysaturated, essential fatty acids}, carbohydrates {starch, simple sugars, fibre}, minerals, trace minerals, vitamins and water. These are broken down through metabolism or digestion to amino acids (nitrogen, essential amino acids), fatty acids, carbon, oxygen and hydrogen. These products of digestion enter the cell are catalysed by enzymes derived from carbon, nitrogen and oxygen and activated by trace minerals or hormones to provide nourishment in the form of energy, protein, vitamins, minerals to the cell. “
This is the nature of DNA in evolution: that all organisms currently alive developed over the eons from common earlier organisms”. (https://www.technologyreview.com/s/413717/sequencing-the-cucumber/) The stem cell is a primitive cell which under the right stimulation can transform into many cell lines; once committed to a particular cell it cannot turn back even though it may contain the genetic material and dormant metabolic pathways to do so).

Plants as they evolved relied on the energy from photosynthesis and the nutrients from the soil to provide the same building blocks for proteins, fats and carbohydrates. The soil relied on the death of plants and the microorganisms responsible for decay to replenish the soil’s fertility and vitality. Only nature intervened not man. This is a very simplistic view as the picture is much more complicated than this as many factors such as genetics, climate, the origin of the soils, pollution, the   amount of rain and atmospheric gases, and the changing seasons also were involved in types of animals and plants which would adapt and thus survive.

All food ingredients are broken down by the digestive process into their simplest components. These nutrients can be derived from plants, their seeds, animal tissues, ingesta and feces .Among species the digestive process is different (monogastrics, herbivores, ruminants, caecal, colon and hind gut fermenter) but the end products utilized by the cells are the same but the process is modified by the genetics and the metabolic sophistication of the tissues and the enzymes in control. These adaptations in the digestive system were necessary in order for survival in an environment with many different food sources.

Whole food sources provide us with all the major nutrient and trace nutrients and microorganisms in a form that supports the ancient code that controls the fate of our well -being.

The Squash Story

In the Fall, after the frost had killed the vines, we harvested our squash. This is a story of squash prepared itself to generate the next generation. I believe this is an example of the ancient code

 When the squash came out of storage 5 ½ months (which unfortunately is our unused well) it becomes obvious by examining the skin that many of the squash undergoing decomposition. Only one squash was spared only with a very few small lesions extending from the skin into the flesh .These  could easily be removed. The flesh was deep orange and very sweet and the seeds were mature. The lesions  from their appearance were likely caused by fungus which the squash had walled off


This squash the flesh was lighter yellow and had larger invasive lesions, there was some attempt to wall these lesions off as they could easily be lifted out. But the innate ability of the squash to successfully defeat the invasion was overcome as evidenced by the lysis of the flesh 

This next example is of an immature squash and the  flesh was frozen as evidence by the small ice crystals present around the seeds, This squash had no defense mechanisms so the invasion of the fungus and probably bacteria overwhelmed the innate system and complete lysis and decomposition of the flesh occurred.