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Nutrigenomics: The role of chromium for fat metabolism revisited


Though it had long been known that the mineral chromium is required in the diet for good health in both animals and humans, the specific role it plays in fat metabolism and milk production had not been described.

Adipose tissue is key
For more than 20 years, McNamara and his team have been working to identify genetic factors related to efficient milk production in dairy cattle. Knowing that adipose (fat) tissue plays an active role in successful reproduction and lactation, they centered their studies on identifying the metabolic functions of body fat. One of their main goals was to identify cows that gained neither too much nor too little weight during pregnancy and lactation.

"When cows store too much body fat, energy is diverted away from milk production and instead goes toward storing more fat," McNamara said. "Yet if a cow does not store enough fat - or loses it too quickly - her immunity is impaired, causing inefficient production and leading to diseases like ketosis, milk fever and mastitis. Adipose tissue, in addition to being a major energy storage organ, is also a source of several powerful hormones that control food intake, inflammation and immunity."

Chromium supplementation
In 2003, McNamara expanded his focus to include how cows vary in their use of specific nutrients - particularly in the time just before and after giving birth. His research showed that chromium supplementation increased feed intake and milk production in dairy cows.

"The unique part of this work was showing that chromium changed the body fat metabolism. It actually caused the cows to gain a little fat, which allowed them to make more milk but also prevented them from losing too much fat - it's a very fine balance."

The work had been funded by Kemin Industries, Inc., a nutritional ingredient manufacturer in Iowa. The company, intrigued with the results, wanted to know if chromium was affecting gene expression in fat metabolism. Using adipose samples from their previous studies, McNamara, Sumner and the Kemin team extracted the RNA and ran microchip array analyses to determine gene function. The study convincingly showed that chromium supplementation "upregulated" a number of genes - causing them to become more active - while others were "downregulated."

This is the first study to document nutrigenomic activity in the body fat of dairy cattle. A provisional patent application for the discovery has been filed by McNamara and Kemin Industries.

Basic mammalian biology
At the same time, Sumner was conducting a companion study to measure gene activity in the adipose "lipolysis pathway" - which follows the breakdown and mobilization of fat tissue - a major contributor to milk production. Her work proved - also for the first time - that the point of highest gene activity coincided with the point of greatest lipolysis.

In essence, she confirmed that five major genes were upregulated during lactation, allowing the cow to utilize stored body fat for milk production.

"This is a novel finding for any mammalian species," said McNamara.

These breakthroughs won McNamara and Sumner an invitation to the International Symposium on Energy and Protein to be held in Paris in September, 2007. They also garnered McNamara a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and National Research Initiative to continue his work.

"Now that we've confirmed one application of nutrigenomics in dairy cattle, we plan to study it in more depth," he said. "We can start to define exactly how genes in adipose tissue respond to different diets. It all comes back to the goal of breeding the most efficient animals for milk production."

Source: Washington State University

Related studies

N. Kleefstra, S. T. Houweling, S. J.L. Bakker, S. Verhoeven, R. O.B. Gans, B. Meyboom-de Jong, H. J.G. Bilo, Chromium Treatment Has No Effect in Patients With Type 2 Diabetes in a Western Population: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, Diabetes Care, May 1, 2007; 30(5): 1092 - 1096. DOI: 10.2337/dc06-2192

Related Information

NIH: Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Chromium

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November 24, 2010: Deemed Essential to Health for Decades, Chromium Has No Nutritional Effect, UA Researchers Show
May 23, 2007: Trivalent Chromium supplemention no help in controlling diabetes
April 24, 2007: Nutrigenomics: The role of chromium for fat metabolism revisited
September 15, 2005: FDA Approves Chromium Claim
November 23, 2005: Chromium(III) - not only therapeutic ?
September 15, 2005: FDA Approves Chromium Claim
March 20, 2005: United Kingdom's Food Standards Agency granted derogation to Chromium (III) compounds as a food supplement
November 23, 2004: Chromium (III) - not only therapeutic?

last time modified: March 9, 2024


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