When I make choices every day about what I am going to eat I usually consider things like: what I like the taste of, what I’m in the mood for, what might cause a negative reaction and because I’m into nutrition, the macro and micro nutrients that will be involved. I can easily say that I had never, until recently, thought about the fact that the food choices I made before conceiving my children might have affected their health status; and in turn their children’s health status and then their children’s children’s health status and so on…
In the 1930’s in the small California town of Monrovia there was a doctor with an exceptional intellect who came across this idea of passing down certain health traits due to the nutritional density or lack thereof from the Mother’s diet. That doctor was Dr. Francis Pottenger and he did a study that lasted over ten years on approximately 900 cats (600 recorded) and showed the outcomes of different diets imposed on different groups of cats. In the book, “Pottenger’s Prophecy” written about epigenetics- the study of how the foods we eat can switch genes on or off that can lead to wellness or illness, the authors note that Pottenger “had the great foresight to study the influence of the cats’ diet and health status would have on their kittens over three generations.”
Here is a breakdown of his study:
While 1/3 of the diets were kept consistent across all of the cats studied, the other 2/3 were manipulated differently for each group. Some received raw meat and others received cooked meat. Different groups also received different types of milk: raw, pasteurized, evaporated and sweetened condensed. The purpose of doing this was to determine whether cooking the meat and/or heat processing the milk (and adding sugar in the case of the sweetened condensed) had any affect on the health of the cats ingesting these various combinations.
The cats who were kept on the raw milk, raw meat diet did very well, maintaining shiny fur, strong skeletal structure, no tooth decay or degenerative disease and good toning of the intestines. They were also able to reproduce easily and pass on these favorable traits to the next generations. The cats who were fed the other diets did not fare as well.
The further removed from the raw milk, raw meat diet, the worse the health of the cats became. The cats who were fed the cooked meat or heat-processed milk ended up with softened bones, coarse fur, distended intestines, enlarged heart, reproductive issues, skin diseases, thyroid disease, arthritis, allergies and asthma in the worst cases. These problems also worsened with each generation that came afterwards.
This told Dr. Pottenger that, much like humans of today who have abandoned their traditional diets, the nutrient-deficient diets fed to the cats led them to become riddled with disease and ill health. Interestingly, it took 3 generations to get the cats to a degenerative and diseased state but it also took 4 generations of the cats eating healthy again to bring them back to an optimal health state. This points to the absolute power and influence that nutrition has over one’s health or lack thereof. What you eat every day is linked to how your body functions, performs and fights off illness. As he said after conducting his research, “when a mother’s diet is nutritious, not only does she benefit with good health, so, too, do her offspring…and their offspring, and so on.”
Interestingly, the reason that Dr.Pottenger could not continue testing past 3 generations of cats was the fact that after 3 generations of eating such a poor diet, the cats were unable to produce a litter that could produce a 4th generation due to being infertile and in such ill health. As Dr. Pottenger stated about his work in the 1930’s, “While no attempt will be made to correlate the changes in the animals studied with malformations found in humans, the similarity is so obvious that parallel pictures will suggest themselves.”
The authors of “Pottenger’s Prophecy” ask the important question: “is it possible that the generation of parents who consumed a predominantly denatured, fast- and processed-food diet, passed on ‘weakened genes’ to their children, making them more prone to today’s chronic conditions?” We certainly do seem to be seeing increasing incidences of fertility problems and childhood diseases in our current population.
The good news here is that we can have a direct affect on future generations’ either increasing illness or wellness by making simple choices about what we (in child bearing years) and our children eat to set up not only themselves, but their future offspring well by upping the nutrient density in the diet.