Adding supplements to your pet’s meals can greatly benefit his health. But how much is too much?
Abby is confused. She’s been doing a lot of research on supplements for dogs, and has added quite a few to her own canine’s daily regime. “He takes a multivitamin, plus fish oil, antioxidants, digestive enzymes and glucosamine. I know all these are good, but I sometimes wonder if I’m going overboard and am giving him too much. Is that possible?”
You’ve probably heard or read reports about the dangers of too many supplements, but in fact the phrase “over-supplementation” is misleading. Confusion reigns because those reports fail to disclose all of the facts. Toxic outcomes are possible when any substance is administered incorrectly and in very high doses. Even water can be over-consumed in unreasonable quantities, altering osmolarity in the cells and body to the point of death.
But that’s no reason to limit nutrition the body requires to maintain optimal health. In fact, it’s more likely we and our animals are undernourished than over-supplemented. Research irrefutably demonstrates that supplementation with antioxidants, fatty acids, vitamins and minerals is the best way to ensure the immune system is fully empowered to resist disease and prevent premature aging. In short, supplementation is safe as long as it is complete and properly balanced.
The negative outcomes sometimes associated with supplementation are usually caused by incomplete supplements. Vitamins, minerals and other nutrients work in codependent partnerships in the body. If a single supplement or incomplete combination of supplements is used too aggressively, the missing nutrients create an opportunity for oxidation (toxicity) to prevail in the body. The lab tests that make the news with discoveries of harmful effects are usually based on megadoses of one nutrient, such as vitamin E or beta carotene, administered without including a proportional quantity of the necessary partner antioxidants.
The science of balance
Antioxidants such as vitamins C and E, catechins, flavonoids and polyphenols of plant origin supply the electrons needed to neutralize free radicals so the latter don’t steal electrons from the atoms that make up vital molecules, cells and tissues. This offering of electrons neutralizes the reactivity we often speak of as oxidation.
Antioxidants work in synergistic combinations. For example, vitamin E can’t replace the function of vitamin C or grapeseed extract, and vice versa. These vitamins and antioxidants also work in a chain sequence by passing the free radical danger down a series of reaction steps. Each step lowers the reactivity of the free radical (oxidation). By limiting the availability of these antioxidants in the body we might be taking away one of these important steps, leaving the oxidation in a reactive state and making tissues vulnerable.
It’s easy to induce a toxic outcome with a megadose of vitamin E, for example, if its nutrient partners are not included in the supplement mix. This is exactly what unaware scientists or those with an agenda do when they show negative effects with antioxidant administration. By reporting these findings without completely disclosing all the facts, they give rise to confusion and doubt about antioxidant supplementation at a time when we and our animals need this protection more than ever.
Why we must supplement
Commercial pet food labels may list a wide array of nutrients but a dog or cat’s body may not be able to extract them all, leaving his cells vulnerable to premature aging and illness. Processing food to make it bag- and can-friendly commonly involves high heat, light and oxygen exposure that damage the nutrients. Think about it: how healthy would you be if all your meals came out of a cereal box? Manufacturers of commercial breakfast cereals claim their products are complete, but processing and shelving inevitably compromises nutrition.
Even raw food depends on the feed the animals received and how the produce is grown. Meat sources from animals in the wild have a different nutrient profile that might include higher mineral, vitamin and even antioxidant levels. We know this to be true when we compare wild and farmed salmon and other fish. It’s no different for other protein sources like chicken and beef. Domestic meat sources also provide different fatty acid proportions that might not be as healthy as the fatty acid profiles found in wild meat sources. Fruits and vegetables, meanwhile, are nutrient-compromised due to commercial agricultural practices. They are engineered to grow fast in chemically fertilized plots, and picked earlier in their maturation phase to ripen during shipping. All this reduces their nutrient density.
Supplementing any diet with vitamin, mineral and phytoantioxidants, as well as polyunsaturated fatty acid blends, increases the food’s nutrient density and health potential. This is necessary not only because of the nutrient limitations of the food. When we add environmental pollution and lifestyle stresses, the body simply cannot cope. These influences create a higher demand for antioxidants that food alone cannot meet.
The key to producing optimal health is to choose the highest quality food and supplementation you can. However, the supplementation must be perfectly balanced and complete to ensure the diet offers the nutrient density and balance needed to protect the body and empower maximum immune system health.
Fatty acid supplementation has become widely accepted, and for good reason. The essential and other polyunsaturated fats important to health are easily destroyed during processing and shelf-storage because their molecular structure makes them extremely delicate. To compensate for this deficiency, many people are supplementing their animals’ food with these precious nutritional fats to improve immunity and longevity. But it’s not as simple as throwing in some cooking oil or fish fats.
Fatty acids also depend on important vitamins, minerals and other cofactors to work properly. Fatty acid supplementation should be done with a blend of essential (flaxseed and/or olive oils) and conditionally essential (cold water fish oils) fatty acids to achieve the proper balance. The body depends on important enzymes and vitamins to process fatty acids in the cells so these must also be supplied in proportional quantities. Antioxidants are critical to fatty acid metabolism because they protect the delicate fatty acids in the cells from the damage uncontrolled oxidation can cause. Some of these highly specialized antioxidants also serve as guides, escorting the fats down the right pathways. Supplying these other supportive nutrients maximizes the benefits of fatty acid supplementation.
If the vitamins, minerals, enzymes and/or antioxidants essential to this process are missing, the body may not be able to use the fatty acids to maintain health and prevent disease. If any one of these important cofactors is limited, the expected results of fatty acid supplementation will also be proportionally limited.
Your companion’s health depends on your nutrition choices. Buying the best quality food you can afford and supplementing it properly (see sidebar) will vastly improve his chances of living a long and healthy life.
3 Steps to supplementation
1. Give your dog or cat the best quality food you can afford.
2. Supplement it with a properly balanced fatty acid system designed for your animal’s metabolism.
3. Complete the program with a properly balanced vitamin, mineral and phytoantioxidant supplement. A holistic or integrative vet can help you design the right supplementation program for your companion.