One of the most common classes of nutritional supplements prescribed by veterinarians is antioxidants. Certain supplements, including vitamins and minerals, function in the body to reduce oxidation. Oxidation is a chemical process that occurs within the body’s cells as a normal result of cellular metabolism, detoxification, and energy production. Inflammation in the body represents a major source of the production of free radicals. After oxidation occurs, certain by-products called “free radicals” or Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) are produced. Examples of free radicals include nitric oxide, superoxide, lipid peroxide, and hydrogen peroxide.
Free radicals can also be produced by environmental toxins that cause damage to the body’s cells. These cellular metabolic by-products are toxic to the cells and surrounding tissues. The free radicals can damage cells by damaging membrane receptor proteins, inactivating proteins required for energy production by the body, and inactivating enzymes required for normal cellular metabolism.
Many medical conditions may occur as a result of free radical damage. Cancer, atherosclerosis, autoimmune diseases, diabetic cataracts, inflammatory bowel disease, nutrient deficiencies, premature aging, and viral infections can be linked to free radical damage.
The body removes these free radicals by producing additional chemicals called antioxidants that combat these oxidizing chemicals. The antioxidants neutralize the oxidants, preventing or limiting cell damage. Some antioxidants are produced by the body on a regular basis, whereas others can be provided in the diet or through supplementation. Examples of antioxidants that occur naturally in the body include superoxide dismutase, catalase, various peroxidases, glutathione, coenzyme Q-10, alpha-lipoic acid, and melatonin.
Superoxide dismutase breaks down the superoxide free radical into hydrogen peroxide which is then broken down into water. Catalase also breaks down hydrogen peroxide to water. Peroxidases break down various peroxides. Blue to fine tune is an extremely important antioxidant in the body, serving as a general detoxifying agent, a regulator of the internal environment of cells, and is a potent antioxidant. Low levels of glutathione have been linked with immune deficiency syndromes and increased side effects from chemotherapy. Coenzyme Q-10 is a powerful fat-soluble antioxidant that also serves to carry electrons in the formation of cellular energy. Supplementing with additional coenzyme Q-10 is very useful for pets with heart disease, cancer, and gum disease. Alpha-lipoic acid scavenges several free radicals and also helps to regenerate other antioxidants including ascorbic acid, glutathione, and vitamin E. melatonin not only the bodies biorhythms in sleep patterns, but may help reduce oxidative damage that occurs with aging, especially in the central nervous system, they can be seen with diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease (cognitive disorder.)
In disease or in older pets, excess oxidation can occur and the body’s normal antioxidant abilities are overwhelmed. This is where supplying antioxidants can help. By giving your pet’s body extra antioxidants, it may be possible to neutralize the harmful by-products of cellular oxidation.
There are several antioxidants that can be used to supplement pets. These can include vitamins A, C, and E; the minerals selenium, manganese, and zinc; and antioxidant nutritional supplements including superoxide dismutase, glutathione, coenzyme Q-10, ginkgo biloba, bilbery, grape seed extract, milk thistle, and various antioxidant flavonoids called proanthocyanidins.
Proanthocyanidins/bioflavonoids are a class of water-soluble plant coloring agents that are naturally occuring polyphenolic compounds found in plants. These compounds are used for their antioxidant effects against lipid (fat) peroxidation. Proanthocyanidins also inhibit the enzyme cyclooxygenase (the same enzyme inhibited by aspirin and other non-steroidal medications); cyclooxygenase converts arachidonic acid into chemicals (leukotrienes and prostaglandins) which contribute to inflammation and allergic reactions. Proanthocyanidins also decrease histamine release from cells by inhibiting several enzymes.
Antioxidants can be useful for a variety of conditions. In addition to maintaining health and supporting pets’ immune system, antioxidants are often recommended for pets with various inflammatory conditions. These include heart disease, kidney disease, liver disease, cancer, teeth and gum disease, allergies, asthma and arthritis.
There are several important points to keep in mind when supplementing your pet with antioxidants:
- Antioxidants, especially vitamins and minerals, are best used synergistically rather than as single dose supplements. Additionally, the correct dose must be used. For example vitamin C and vitamin E can actually act as pro-oxidants under certain conditions. Vitamin A can actually be toxic when given at high levels. Therefore you should not simply pick and choose vitamins and minerals to add to your pet’s diet without veterinary supervision.
- The correct form of the supplement should also be given. For example, vitamin E and alpha tocopherol, terms that are often used interchangeably, are not the same thing. Alpha tocopherol is actually a small part of vitamin E. Several other tocopherols and tocotrienols make up the entire vitamin E complex. Supplementing with a natural vitamin E product that contains mixed tocopherols and tocotrienols is usually better than giving an isolated alpha-tocopherol supplement.
- As with all supplements it’s best to use high quality products made for pets unless otherwise directed by your veterinarian. While there are regulations governing the supplement quality, efficacy, and safety, these are often not enforced and some products may not be safe or effective for your pet.
- Keep in mind that the term “natural” does not necessarily mean safe. There is always the possibility of a supplement negatively interacting with another supplement or medication. Therefore it is best to consult with your veterinarian before using antioxidants supplements in the treatment of any disease.
When used correctly, antioxidants can be a wonderful addition to your pets supplement regimen. However as with all supplements, there is the potential for doing harm if you’re not careful. Properly chosen antioxidants, used along with a natural diet and other nutritional supplements, herbs, and homeopathic remedies can maintain health and assist in the treatment of pets with many diseases.