I am sure you too have heard about antioxidants and how important they are not just for the health of humans but also for our companion animals. It is a fact that vets prescribe antioxidants as one of the most common nutritional supplements as preventative measurement or treatment for diseases. So what is the story behind them? Why do animals need them and what should you consider once you decide to provide them to your cat or dog via supplementation? Is it even necessary to supplement with antioxidants? Up front, my take on this is, if you provide a high quality food you may not have to supplement with anything as all nutrients required will be included in your food.
Oxidation and Free Radicals
A number of specific supplements to include vitamins and minerals help to reduce oxidation in the body. Oxidation is a chemical process that occurs within the cells as a result of metabolism, detoxification and energy production. After oxidation occurs certain free radicals or reactive oxygen species (ROS) are formed. Examples for such free radicals or ROS include among others nitric oxide, superoxide, lipid peroxide and hydrogen peroxide. One of the major sources of free radicals production is inflammation in the body. Another one is environmental toxins causing cell damage.
Free radicals are toxic and damaging to cells and surrounding tissues. They damage cells by inflicting damage to membrane receptor proteins, inactivating proteins required for energy production by the body and inactivating enzymes required for regular cellular metabolism.
As a result a number of medical conditions can be linked to such cell damage caused by free radicals. They include autoimmune diseases, diabetic cataracts, inflammatory bowel disease, nutrient deficiencies, atherosclerosis, premature aging, cancer and viral infections.
The body removes free radicals by producing additional substances called antioxidants. Their purpose is to fight off the oxidizing chemicals. They neutralize oxidants and prevent or at least limit cell damage.
The body produces some antioxidants on a regular basis. Others need to be provided through the diet or supplements. Following are a few examples of naturally occurring antioxidants:
Superoxide dismutase: Breaks down the superoxide free radical into hydrogen peroxide.
Catalase: After the superoxide dismutase has broken down the superoxide, it is then, with help of the antioxidant catalase broken down into water.
Peroxidases: Break down various peroxides
Glutathione: Serving as a general detoxifying agent and regulating the internal environment of cells. Research has established a link between low levels of glutathione and immune deficiency syndrome as well as increased side effects from chemotherapy.
Coenzyme Q10: Powerful fat soluble antioxidant carrying electrons in the formation of cellular energy. Supplementing a diet with additional Q10 has proven to be beneficial for companion animals suffering from cancer, heart disease and gum disease.
Alpha lipoic acid: Scavenging a number of free radicals and helping to regenerate others including ascorbic acid, glutathione and Vitamin E.
Melatonin: Besides regulating the body’s biorhythms and sleep patterns, melatonin is also reducing oxidative damage occurring with aging. Especially this applies to the central nervous system and in cases of cognitive disorder or Alzheimer’s disease.
Older or animals with specific health conditions may show access oxidation, meaning the body’s regular antioxidant abilities are overwhelmed. This is a typical case where supplementation with antioxidants may be helpful. Providing additional antioxidants may enable the body to neutralize harmful by-products of cellular oxidation. Supplementation may include vitamins (A, C, E), minerals (selenium, manganese, zinc) and nutritional supplementation to include superoxide dismutase, glutathione, coenzyme Q10, gingko, biloba, bilberry, grape seed extract, milk thistle and various bio-flavenoids (proanthocyanidins)
Bioflavonoids, or proanthocyanidins are a class of plant metabolites they play an important role in maintaining health, vitality and well being. They have antioxidant effects against fat (lipid) peroxidation and also inhibit the enzyme cycloxygenase (which by the way is the same enzyme inhibited by Aspirin and other non steroidal medications). Cyclooxygenase converts arachidonic acid into leukotrienes and prostaglandins, i.e. chemicals that contribute to inflammation and allergic reactions. Bioflavonoids also decrease histamine release from cells by inhibiting a number of other enzymes.
Additionally, antioxidant supplementation is recommended for various inflammatory conditions to include heart, kidney and liver diseases, cancer, tooth and gum disease, allergies, asthma and arthritis.
Antioxidants as supplements:
If you want to supplement your pet’s diet with antioxidants, it is recommended to keep the following in mind:
Antioxidants, especially vitamins and minerals are most beneficial if they are used in synergy with the food rather than as a single dose application.
Make sure you use the correct dose. As example, vitamin C and E can act as pro-oxidants under certain conditions or vitamin A can even be toxic if provided at levels too high.
As always, consult your vet about supplementing with antioxidants. This is especially important if your animal is being treated for specific health conditions and may already be provided with antioxidants via other means of dietary supplementation.
Make sure you use the correct form of the supplement. As an example, vitamin E and alpha tocopherol, while often used interchangeably, are not the same. As a matter of fact, alpha tocopherol is a part of vitamin E. Vitamin E is made up of several other tocopherols and tocotrienols. Ideally you want to supplement with a natural vitamin E product containing mixed tocopherols and tocotrienols and in that case are better off than using an isolated alpha tocopherol supplement.
Use high quality products made for animals. Although there are official regulations governing supplement quality and safety, these rules are often not enforced thereby leaving many products out there, which may not be safe or effective.
As with food, “natural” does not always mean “safe”.
The “Golden rule”: Choose antioxidant supplements properly and use them along with a natural diet and other natural supplements.
Optionally, keep in mind that herbs and homeopathic remedies can assist in treating many diseases and maintaining good health in you companion.