A recent report from the Royal Veterinary College in London, Professor D.L. Chan, pointed out that veterinarians should begin to look at nutrition to play a larger role in the health of pets. Similar to human doctors, most veterinarians don’t write ‘prescriptions’ of nutritional supplements for their pet patients. However, Professor Chan believes nutritional therapies need further veterinary exploration. The very first sentence of his paper explains it all; “Nutrition plays a critical role in the proper development and maintenance of optimal health in animals.” Dr. Chan not only acknowledges the power of nutrition in maintaining optimal health in animals, but he cites many clinical studies showing that nutrition actually improves and eliminates disease. Wiley Interscience, the publisher of the Journal of Small Animal Practice, which is where the paper was introduced, describes Dr. Chan’s work in an abstract as follows:
“The role of nutrition in the management of diseases has often centered on correcting apparent nutrient deficiencies or meeting estimated nutritional requirements of patients” (humans and animals). “Nutrition has traditionally been considered a supportive measure akin to fluid therapy and rarely has been considered a primary means of ameliorating diseases. Recently, however, further understanding of the underlying mechanisms of various disease processes and how certain nutrients possess pharmacological properties have fuelled an interest in exploring how nutritional therapies themselves could modify the behavior of various conditions. Nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants and certain amino acids such as arginine and glutamine have all been demonstrated to have at least the potential to modulate diseases. Developments in the area of critical care nutrition have been particularly exciting as nutritional therapies utilizing a combination of approaches have been shown to positively impact outcome beyond simply proving substrate for synthesis and energy. Application of certain nutrients for the modulation of diseases in veterinary patients is still in early stages, but apparent successes have already been demonstrated, and future studies are warranted to establish optimal approaches.”
One of the most promising nutritional supplements discussed by Dr. Chan are Omega-3 fatty acids. Probably the best known source of Omega-3 is fish oil. Research in existence for years has covered the topic of maintaining good health by adding fish oil supplement to an animal’s diet. Mainly related to humans Dr. Chan quotes some very interesting research of Omega-3 actually treating and/or curing disease. He talks about a landmark study demonstrating a diet enriched with Omega-3 greatly improved the health conditions of patients suffering from respiratory and lung disease.
Dr, Chan mentions one amazing example of the power of fish oil, which is the brain recovery of Randal McCloy Jr. He is the only surviving coal miner in the 2006 Sage Mine disaster in West Virginia. After more than 40 hours being exposed to carbon monoxide, McCloy “had a massive heart attack from the carbon monoxide exposure, he was in kidney failure, liver failure, he was dehydrated, he was hypothermic, and he was in the deepest of coma.” Neurosurgeon Dr. Julian Bailes together with other doctors were “uncertain if his brain would recover from its extensive injuries.” Randal was given extremely high doses of fish oil, and his brain functions started to improve. The case was featured on the Oprah show earlier this year in June.
Dr. Barry Sears, a leading U.S. researcher of Omega-3 states that fish oil is so remarkable because of its ability to reduce inflammation, especially ‘silent inflammation’, which is “below the perception of pain.” According to Dr. Sears, silent inflammation is the first clinical sign that you are no longer well. On his website he claims that “if fish oil is used as a nutritional way to reduce silent inflammation, then the state of wellness could be extended indefinitely.” Like I said, all the above incidents and reports address the effects of Omega 3 on humans. Unfortunately for pet owners, Dr. Chan’s paper says, very few studies are available for veterinarians researching diets enriched with fish oils treating critically ill pets. He believes human studies suggest “a great potential to benefit such patients.”(i.e. pets)
I for my part would say there is plenty of research readily available sufficiently explaining the health maintenance benefits of fish oil pets. Maybe it is not good and scientific enough for the veterinarian community, but it will do for me.
As so often I like to refer to Dr. Wysong, who states in his book “Lipid Nutrition” under the head line “NEW MEDICAL HOPE”: “The diet is directly responsible for the lipid make-up of the body in both the anatomical and physiological sense. The ubiquitous nature of lipids in living tissue and their integral role in all life processes make them a fundamental concern and a logical target in health and disease. It has been demonstrated through controlled scientific studies that several degenerative diseases are linked to improper nutrition resulting in improper fatty acid composition of the body. It is likely that this light is only a glimmer of that which will shine to reveal the far reaching consequences that tampering with our food supply has caused. The clinician and patient who become aware of the fundamental importance of natural balanced lipid and overall nutrition are given powerful new means to deal with disease as well as maintain and optimize health. Beneficial results will come over time as the diet is changed and fatty acid turnover in the body occurs. This approach does not mean a quick fix. It does not hold the sensationalism of organ transplants or a cure-all vaccine or drug. It means lifestyle modification, it means intelligent foresight, it means taking responsibility and emphasizing prevention. It will take active participation and work, but this approach is the "medicine" of the future and offers real hope for reversing many of the devastating degenerative diseases which strike modern populations.”
Coming back to Dr. Chan, antioxidants are his next topic. His report suggests for veterinarians to incorporate antioxidants into animal health maintenance and treatments of disease. “With the depletion of normal antioxidant defenses, the host is more vulnerable to free radical species and prone to cellular and sub-cellular damage (for example, DNA and mitochondrial damage). Replenishment of antioxidant defenses attempts to less the intensity of the signals that eventually leads to multiple organ dysfunction.” Various studies of companion animals benefiting from antioxidants include positive improvement of congestive heart failure, pancreatitis, gastric and renal diseases. The USDA publishes a list of the top 20 food sources of antioxidants. Of those I have seen only the five following being used in various pet foods: Blueberries, cranberries, artichokes, apples, and potatoes. Lastly, the veterinarian directed paper of Dr. Chan’s reports on the importance of amino acids. “Certain amino acids also serve as an energy source for certain cells; perhaps the most pertinent example being glutamine, which is the preferred fuel source for enterocytes and cells of the immune system.” Studies have shown that in response to stress, ‘there may be a dramatic increase in demand of particular amino acids and they must be obtained by the diet’. Recent studies have shown positive responses of the amino acid glutamine including cellular expression of ‘heat shock proteins, which enable cells to withstand a great deal of injury and remain viable and functional.” Dietary sources of L-glutamine include beef, chicken, fish, eggs, milk, dairy products, wheat, and parsley (to name only the ones I have seen being used in various pet foods. Dr. Chan continues on the importance of glutamine, “As the gastrointestinal tract is in fact the largest immune organ, dysregulation of the immune response further compromises the host and leads to multiple organ dysfunction. Given the relationship between critical illness and gut atrophy, supplementation with the gastrointestinal tract’s preferred energy source, glutamine, is an attempt at restoring the integrity and function of this vital organ system.” I think it is more than likely that it will be years in the future before vet as a group begin utilizing nutritional therapies to treat disease and illness in our pets. Before that happens many boundaries have to be eliminated, an entire world, i.e. the one of vets and mass producing pet food manufacturers.
However, I believe what we have learned today from Dr. Chan (and so many others following his lead) and the research described can be utilized by pet owners to maintain the good health of their pets. Health promoting diets fed to our companion animals have to include quality meats, supplemented with Omega-3 and antioxidants. When searching for food and making your selections look for health promoting high quality, ideally several different meat proteins, for berries and other antioxidant providing ingredients and fish meal or fish oil ingredients. Make sure you follow the same guidelines when choosing treats. There is quite a large selection of these types of diets available to you.
Nutrition is a serious health matter. I would say that research done during the last let’s say 100 years, by now has proven beyond any doubt that food is fundamental to both health and disease. Unfortunately, nutrition is not usually taken the way it should be taken: Seriously. Many consumers see it as a form of recreation and manufacturers with their sales representatives as a profitable opportunity. While all this is going on, health of our companion animals is declining at an alarming rate. It is time for a major change. Science has proven the tremendous benefits of these foods and food supplements. Now it is up to us to let our pet show us how well they work!