This article was adapted from an essay I wrote for the my certification program through the Nutritional Therapy Association.
Dr. Francis Pottenger was a physician in California who ran a sanitorium for tuberculosis patients in California in the 1930s. As part of the patients' treatment, Dr. Pottenger would supplement their diet with adrenal cortex he got from performing adrenalectomies on laboratory cats. The laboratory cats diet consisted of raw milk, cod liver oil, and cooked meat scraps. Dr. Pottenger was frustrated that a lot of the cats were not surviving the operation.
At the same time, the number of cats Dr. Pottenger was housing began to exceed their food supply, so he started giving some of the cats raw meat scraps from the local butcher, which consisted of nutrient-dense organ meats. He noticed that the cats on the raw meat diet were surviving the operations, had more lively offspring, and were healthier in general. He decided to do a multi-generational controlled experiment focusing on two components of the cats’ diet: a meat study and a milk study. In one study, he observed the difference between cooked meat and raw meat in the cats (all the cats in the meat study were given raw milk), and another study observed the difference in raw milk, pasteurized milk, condensed milk, sweetened evaporated milk, and a raw vitamin D fortified milk from either grass fed cows or grain fed cows (all the cats in the milk study were given raw meat).
Dr. Pottenger observed that the cats given raw meat and raw milk, and subsequently their offspring, maintained better health than the cats given cooked meat and processed milks. The cats given condensed milk, sweetened evaporated milk, and grain fed Vitamin D fortified milk degenerated the quickest. In fact, the cats given the Vitamin D fortified milk from grain fed cows ironically developed rickets—a disease caused by a deficiency in Vitamin D! Dr. Pottenger maintained the same exact diet throughout the generations of cats, and while the first generation of cats on the processed milk diets did degenerate, their offspring had exponentially more health issues. Details of the study can be found here and here, as well as in this book.
Some of the health issues observed in the cats on the processed diets include: facial and structural deformities, allergies, behavioral and social issues, infertility and other reproductive health issues, and other degenerative diseases. These multi-generational observations parallel what we are currently seeing in human families, now that processed and refined foods have sadly become the norm in today’s society: mental issues, behavioral problems, chronic disease, increasing food and environmental allergies, and infertility. For example, heart disease and diabetes were not common health issues prior to the 1900s; the increase of these issues correlates with the addition of hydrogenated fats, processed vegetable oils, refined sugar, low-fat fortified dairy products, and factory-farmed meat in our diet. And for what we believe is the first time in human history, the latest generation has a shorter life expectancy than their parents.
There is some hope. Dr. Pottenger was able to reverse the health of some of the third generation kittens by feeding them a completely raw meat and raw milk diet (the third generation of degenerating cats who continued their deficient diets died before reaching adulthood and were not able to reproduce). However, it took FOUR generations of the adequate diet to bring those kittens and their eventual offspring back to normal health. So we have a lot of work to do!
I think it's important to look at the overall context of this study. Obviously at the time of the study, we were not aware of the importance of taurine in a cat's diet, and now all cat food is supplemented with the essential nutrient. No one is advocating for a completely raw milk or raw food diet in neither humans or cats. But it is interesting to observe how their bodies responded to a more natural diet versus a processed one. You cannot deny that we are seeing the same effects of such diets in humans today. The founder of the NTA wrote a book discussing these parallels in more detail.
I also want to note that as the owner of two rescued cats and a pet lover (we feed them Taste of the Wild), I wasn't too fond of learning this study and reading some of the details or seeing the autopsy photos (I've spared you from seeing those, and have included a photo of my spoiled cats instead). But the results of Pottenger's experiment is a very important foundation to the study of nutritional therapy. It also serves as a good reminder that it may be possible to reverse some of the effects of our increasingly poor diet by eating nutrient-dense foods in their whole and natural form, instead of the processed and refined foods that are so prominent in today's standard diet. And while it seems cruel to feed the cats such terrible food that we know is bad for their health, how is it any different than all the refined sugar, nutrient-stripped milk, and other processed foods we currently feed kids? We can't do anything to save the cats now, but we can save our future generations from experiencing a similar fate.
If you have a few minutes, this video on the study is worth watching and is not too graphic for my fellow animal lovers. If anything, I highly recommend skipping to the 13:30 mark. "The cat that got away" is my little furry hero. I think those of you who have figuratively given a middle finger to the Standard American Diet and our flawed government dietary recommendations, and have begun the process of restoring your health through primal and other whole food nutrition concepts, can also relate to her like I can.
Time for my first rant. I was going to wait a little while until I did one of these, but I just found out that the non-browning GMO fuji apple from Okanagan Specialty Fruits has been approved by the USDA.
First, let's just talk about the concept of a non-browning GMO apple. According to the Cornucopia Institute, Okanagan describes the apple as “cost-saving means for the fresh sliced apple business.” The fresh sliced apple business??? Is that even a thing? Am I that out of touch with conventional eating practices that I was unaware that there is a specific industry for sliced apples? Is the oxidation of an apple THAT much of an inconvenience for the consumer that we even need this? Who are all these people that are immediately cutting up their apples and then letting them sit out all day?
After googling, "fresh sliced apple business" and expecting to get no results, it turns out I AM that out of touch. Crunch Pak is "America's #1 sliced apple". I still do not understand why this needs to be a thing, other than the fact that we are that lazy that we cannot bite into or slice our own apples. And if that is the case we have much bigger problems as a society. I understand if you have kids it is much easier for them to eat sliced apples, so if you are sending them off to school with a homemade lunch it is more convenient in that case to include sliced apples. But a squirt of lemon juice will help, or just bake the apples or make your own apple sauce. I love Stupid Easy Paleo's Easy Baked Apples. Or maybe try a different fruit and leave the apples for an after school snack.
Surprisingly, the need for such a ridiculous concept is not what irritates me the most. According to The Cornucopia Institute, the non-browning GMO apple is created by inserting a gene that "allows transformed apple tissue to grow on a medium containing the antibiotic kanamycin" and that "every cell of every GMO apple tree, including the apple fruit, and the roots of the trees, will show resistance to the antibiotic kanamycin." Okanagan claims it does not. I prefer to err on the side of caution and I am always skeptical of someone who has financial interests at stake.
Before I continue, I must disclose one of my greatest fears for our future society: antibiotic resistance. Antibiotics have become the adult band-aid. Remember when you were a kid and you would fall and bump your knee or your elbow? You would cry and even though you weren't bleeding, you insisted on putting a bandage on the area. Your parents knew this was useless because you weren't bleeding but you wouldn't stop crying until they put the bandage on, so they obliged. Well, every time you go to the doctor with the flu or a sniffle, you are the child, the doctor is your parent, and the antibiotics you insist on receiving is the bandage. I really don't even understand why people want antibiotics so badly. Yes, they deplete all the bacteria in your body but that includes the GOOD bacteria, which keeps your gut healthy and your immune system strong, among other things. So unless the bacteria you are hosting is REALLY bad (which in some cases it is and that is when antibiotics actually are necessary), you don't need antibiotics. First of all, if you have the flu, then you are fighting a virus so taking something that kills bacteria is not going to make you feel better, it will just inhibit your immune system from fighting the virus. Hot take: Any doctor or health care professional that obliges your childish wish for antibiotics when you only have the flu should lose their license.
I just want to be clear that I am not against antibiotics. Though I eat primally, I don't want to be like our ancestors and die from an infectious disease or bacterial infection that could have easily been treated with antibiotics. But those of us who are begging for antibiotics for every little inconvenient sniffle and fart are creating an epidemic of antibiotic resistance. Viruses and bacteria evolve and are becoming more and more resistant to medication with every unnecessary prescribed dose. This year, the United States saw it's first case of bacteria resistant to a last resort antibiotic. As someone who does not use antibiotics unless necessary, that terrifies me because I would like it to be a possible treatment should the need arise; and less selfishly I would like future generations to have the option to use antibiotics. Otherwise, we are at risk of devolving as a society. Living in a world with antibiotic resistant bacteria will be EXACTLY like living in the same world our ancestors did, where every cut and scrape could mean death.
You know what else is pretty unnecessary? Putting antibiotics in apples! It's not unreasonable to think that by regularly eating an apple that has been genetically altered so that every cell of it's being will be resistance to the antibiotic kanamycin, you could also eventually develop a resistance to the drug as well. Kanamycin is listed on the WHO Model List of Essential Medicines.
The last thing I will rant about today is how those of us who are skeptical of genetically modified food are often labeled as anti-science. That is obviously not the case. If I was anti-science, I would not have just ranted about how I want to save antibiotics from extinction. Often times, the argument for genetically modified food is that it will "feed the world". That is debatable, and certainly not the case here. Even IF these non-browning genetically engineered apples are safe and pose absolutely no threat to our digestive systems and antibiotic resistance, are they really necessary??? I suppose if your paycheck comes from Okanagan they are, but for the rest of us, we will probably be just fine eating apples the old-fashioned way. Sometimes just because you CAN do something, it does not mean you SHOULD.
Good thing the USDA has saved all the lazy people who can't slice their own apples! They no longer have to suffer through freshly biting into them and eating them at the peak of their nutrient density!