The following is a guest post from Nutritional Therapy Association founder, Gray Graham, BA, NTP, author of Pottenger’s Prophecy. My first book Pottenger’s Prophecy: How Food Resets Genes for Wellness or Illness is the result of an epiphany I had almost twenty years ago after being introduced to the work of Frances Pottenger, Jr, MD. In Dr. Pottenger’s famous cat study he showed that when cats were fed an inadequate and processed diet they suffered degeneration. What was even more profound about the study was that when an improper diet was held constant each generation became more degenerated than the generation before it. The degeneration affected every aspect of the cat’s lives; their structure, their internal organs (heart, liver, colon, etc.), their behavior, and both their sexual activity and ability to reproduce. When I looked around at all the problems that were developing in human health, it seemed incredibly obvious to me that the same transgenerational problems that resulted from an inadequate and highly processed diet were happening to modern humans! The western diet, and particularly the diet of Americans, had taken a terrible turn in the last century. As we discuss in the chapter “Nourishment Now”, what the average American is eating today has little resemblance to what we were eating even a hundred years ago, never mind the diet of our Paleolithic ancestors. In the twenty years since I made that observation, our health has only gotten worse. In 2009, Americans spent 2.5 trillion dollars on health care, and still, we are less healthy than ever. The United States government is predicting that by the year 2017 we will be spending over four trillion dollars on health care! Look at what is happening to us. Obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer are all at epidemic proportions. Our children are plagued with ADD, ADHD, autism, depression, anxiety, and a host of other behavioral problems that were quite rare when I was a child in the 1950’s. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) is predicting that of the children born after the year 2000, one third of them will become diabetic in their lifetime. If we allow that prediction to unfold it will be a tragedy of unimaginable proportions. In fact, the CDC is predicting that these children will actually be the first generation in modern times that will have shorter life spans than their parents. How tragic! Was this the same phenomenon that Dr. Pottenger observed in his cats? Have we passed nutritional degeneration on to our children and grandchildren? Well, I am no scientist, and it is a good thing because just twenty years ago science would reject this notion just as surely as they rejected Dr. Pottengers’ cat study. There was simply no known mechanism by which cats or humans could pass defects that resulted from nutritional or lifestyle issues past our immediate offspring. In the last dozen years that has all changed. We now know with scientific certainty, through the emerging field of epigenetics that this can and is happening. Dr. Pottenger’s cat study took three generations to degenerate the cats to the point where they could no longer reproduce. Along the way they suffered from a huge array of other physical and behavioral problems that are not unlike the physical and behavioral problems that beset us today. Dr. Pottenger prophetically showed long before the science of epigenetics that cats can pass degenerated traits trans-generationally. What he also showed was that he could regenerate the cats and return them to their former feline perfection by correcting the diet. But, whereas it took three generations to degenerate the cats, it took four generations to restore them to physical and behavioral health. Now, I concede, humans are not cats. As omnivores, we are more flexible dietarily and more capable of adapting in general than cats. If we step back and take a look at where we are today in terms of our health it is not that hard to imagine that we could be approaching the third generation of “Pottenger’s People”. It is simply undeniable at this point in time that we are in very serious trouble individually and collectively with our health. And, as you come to understand through the course of my book, we can pass our nutritional problems on to our children and their children. In Pottenger’s Prophecy, we weave together stories and science to take the reader on a journey of understanding. For although we have individually and collectively changed our genetic expression, our epigenome, just as surely we can through these same mechanisms take our genetic destiny back by simple but profound nutrition and lifestyle changes. In the final chapter, “Taking Action, If Not Now When”, we invite you to join the growing number of individuals who in so many different ways are coming together into a new food movement. This movement is about embracing food from a new perspective. This movement embraces food as a source of health, joy, and balance. From a larger perspective, this movement is about nothing less than recreating our health destiny.
Gray Graham, BA, NTP has been an international consultant in the field of clinical nutrition for almost 30 years. Gray has taught hundreds of seminars on nutritional therapy to thousands of doctors and other healthcare practitioners all around the world. Gray is the founder of the Nutritional Therapy Association and the author of Pottenger’s Prophecy. This article originally appeared in the Winter 2011 edition of The Nutritional Therapist.