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Babies' diet

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reimer and mcphersonStudy suggests babies’ diet affects health later in life


By Don McSwiney

Could a baby’s early diet be setting it up for a lifetime of problems? New research by the Faculty of Kinesiology at the University of Calgary suggests that a high-fat, high-protein diet could alter the way infants’ metabolism works later in life, making them more susceptible to certain chronic diseases and conditions.

The research, conducted by fourth-year kinesiology student Christine McPherson under the supervision of Dr. Raylene Reimer, a leader in the field of obesity and nutrition, examined how a newborn rat’s genetic expression was altered by its diet.

McPherson’s rats were fed three separate diets. One group was fed a fairly typical, balanced rat chow. Another group was fed a high-fibre diet while the third was given a high-fat, high-protein diet—kind of a Rat Atkins plan. The results were intriguing.

Studying several groups of genes that regulate metabolism and adiposity (fat storage), McPherson noted several interesting trends. “The rats who were given the high-fat, high-protein diet exhibited a marked rise in the expression of a couple of genes that deal with insulin sensitivity. When you see an increase like that, you’re going to see an increase in obesity or diabetes,” she says.

As Reimer explains: “We are all born with about 35,000 genes; everybody has the same genes. However, I may have a particular gene that’s active while yours might be sluggish. That’s what we mean by expression. Our food choices can increase or decrease expression—which can then affect proteins or enzymes that are secreted in the blood. We know—absolutely—that this happens in rats and humans.”

Reimer, whose lab has done ground-breaking work in the role of specific foods and fibre on genetic expression, says she’s interested in following up with a long-term study of the issue. “It really lays the foundation,” says Reimer, who also holds a cross-appointment in the U of C’s Faculty of Medicine.

McPherson’s research was completed as part of an Undergraduate Student Research Project, an innovative program at the U of C that gives undergrads the funding and opportunity to investigate a health and wellness question under the guidance of university researchers.