Dr. Francis M. Pottenger was a physician who conducted studies on cats during the 1930s and 1940s. His work was initially devoted to developing adrenal gland extract hormones to treat his sanatorium patients who had respiratory diseases such as tuberculosis, asthma, and allergies. His study grew so large that the number of cats exceeded his supply of leftover food at his sanatorium, so he obtained supplies of raw meat scraps from local butchers. Soon he noticed that the health of the cats being fed the raw meat scraps was superior to the cats eating the standard cooked meat leftovers from the sanatorium. His discovery led to a ten-year cat study that examined the nutritional effects of cooked meat and milk versus raw meat and milk on several generations of cats. The research is described in Pottenger’s Cats: A Study in Nutrition by Francis M. Pottenger, MD.
Dr. Pottenger’s cat study teaches us that our diet can have a significant impact on not only our own health but also the health of our children and grandchildren. Dr. Pottenger discovered that feeding a deficient diet to cats for several generations resulted in increasingly poor health and function in each generation until by the third generation the cats were no longer able to reproduce. Allergy symptoms were among the first symptoms in the kittens born to the first deficient generation of cats. By the third generation almost 100% of the kittens had allergy symptoms. Dr. Pottenger’s research also showed that the health of the cats could be recovered if the diet were returned to a healthy one by the second generation; however, even then it took four generations for some of the cats to show no symptoms of allergies. The deficiency in Dr. Pottenger’s cats’ diet was apparently caused by heating and/or processing the meat and milk fed to the cats. The heating and processing of the food may have destroyed or damaged essential nutrients needed by the cats to be completely healthy. Cats that were fed the most processed foods were the most damaged. Although cats are not perhaps the most relevant study animal for application to human biology, there are still important lessons to be learned here about the importance of nutrition on health.
I highly recommend reading all of Pottenger’s Cats to fully understand the importance of nutrition on health through multiple generations. The book is listed on Real Food Houston’s Recommended Reading page. The book may be purchased through the Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation.
This summary is largely taken from a homework assignment for my course work with the Nutritional Therapy Association. I talked about my plans to become a Certified Nutritional Therapy Practitioner in Why I do what I do!