W. Jean Dodds, DVM, founder of Hemopet, the first nonprofit national blood bank program for animals, has built much of her considerable reputation on her work in the development of advanced comprehensive diagnostic profiles. She’s also passionate about Greyhound rescue, minimum vaccine protocols and nutrition. So it’s no surprise that in her latest book, written in cooperation with Diana Laverdure, she takes up the cutting-edge topic of nutrigenomics. In a recent email exchange, Dr. Dodds expanded upon some of the concepts she includes in the book.
Bark: What makes a happy, healthy cell?
W. Jean Dodds: One that is exposed only to healthy environmental stimuli, including a variety of wholesome, nutrient-dense foods.
BK: How are cells influenced?
WJD: The process of turning genes on or off inside a cell is called “gene expression.” It determines how cells look, grow and act. Gene expression is controlled by the epigenome, a structural layer that surrounds our DNA and the proteins they are attached to. The epigenome initiates chemical reactions within cells that control gene expression, determining which genes are turned on or off and which proteins are produced.
BK: How is this relevant to what we feed our dogs?
WJD: Environmental assaults on the epigenome can become too much for the body to handle, and the result is chronic inflammation and disease. Epigenetic signaling tools manage and prevent chronic inflammatory diseases by affecting the expression of pro-inflammatory disease-fighting molecules. This can be promoted by feeding functional foods that include certain botanicals, amino acids, vitamins and phytochemicals (plant-based nutraceuticals).
BK: How is this signaling determined, and how is it measured?
WJD: The epigenetic response is determined by measuring the number of expressed inflammatory cell markers, like cytokines and interleukins. When these inflammatory enzymes are expressed from cells after exposure to unhealthy food ingredients, additives or contaminants, the result is chronic inflammation and disease. By contrast, functional foods express healthy enzymic marker responses.
BK: Throughout the book, you reference “canine functional superfoods”—blueberries, coconut oil, honeybee products, probiotics and so forth. Why are they so important, and what are some of their healing powers?
WJD: Functional foods are nutritional ingredients that switch on gene expression to fight disease and switch off the expression to promote disease. The functional effect of a food is only as good as the sum of its ingredients. Functional superfoods [have] the most beneficial effects on health: they reduce chronic inflammation and promote healing; are powerfully antioxidant, antimicrobial and antitumor; and are even believed to delay aging.
BK: What’s the difference between junk carbohydrates and functional carbohydrates?
WJD: The so-called “good carbs” originate from whole, fresh foods such as fruits; vegetables; beans; and unrefined, gluten-free grains. Unhealthy “junk carbs” come from processed foods that rank high on the glycemic index (GI), such as bread, pasta and cereal. These high-GI carbs contain sugary, refined ingredients that cause blood sugar levels to rise rapidly, which triggers the body to produce a chronic inflammatory response, contributing to a variety of health problems, including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and cancer.
BK: You write that high-glycemic carbs can negatively affect brain health; please explain this.
WJD: High-glycemic foods such as corn and wheat create mood swings in dogs as they do in people. After ingesting them, dogs experience a “sugar high,” with hyperactivity and lack of focus that can be mistaken as ill-mannered and uncooperative behavior. This “high” is followed by a “low,” which can cause dogs to become sleepy, lethargic, moody and irritable.