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Life Extension For Your Pet

April 2001

By Richard E. Palmquist, DVM and Terri Mitchell


Super nutrients for animals

There are nutrients beyond the usual vitamins and antioxidants that may help our animals live longer. Alpha lipoic acid (also known as lipoic acid or thioctic acid) improves glucose metabolism and helps prevent complications of diabetes. It has several actions including stopping the overproduction of glucose, mimicking insulin and increasing the formation of bioactive carnitine.

In addition to its metabolism effects, lipoic acid is also a powerful antioxidant. It's is especially good for active animals, where restoring antioxidants depleted by exercise is desirable. Old animals, too, benefit from lipoic acid. A study in old rats shows that lipoic acid reverses age-related declines in physical activity and upregulates metabolism. It also protects the brain from the effects of free radicals. Studies show that lipoic acid can reduce the amount of lipid peroxidation in the brains of rats by a substantial 50%. A study from Germany shows that lipoic acid extends the life span of immune-suppressed mice.

TMG (trimethylglycine or betaine**) is another super nutrient for animals. It's especially important for kidneys and liver. TMG is the bioactive form of choline, and acts as a methyl donor. In this regard, it enhances methylation. Methylation is crucial for protein production, DNA repair and enzyme function, among other things. TMG is very liver-friendly. Studies show that TMG can reverse serious liver disease, no matter the cause. TMG enhances the production of glutathione, an important liver antioxidant.

**(The betaine referred to is anhydrous betaine, not betaine hydrochloride. Never give your animal betaine hydrochloride. It could cause severe peptic ulcers.)

TMG is also beneficial for the kidney. In kidney cells, it maintains water balance so that the cells neither shrink nor burst. Salmon farmers use TMG to protect the fish from osmotic stress when they go from fresh to salt water. Made from sugar beets, it's a very non-toxic supplement.

Carotenoids are the red, yellow and orange pigments in plants (fall leaves, for example, have carotenoids). There are 599 known carotenoids besides beta-carotene. One of the jobs of these brightly-colored substances is to protect against the sun. As such, they have strong antioxidant action against UV radiation. Carotenoids appear to work synergistically. In a study on humans, beta-carotene deficiency caused suppressed immunity. Beta-carotene alone did not restore immunity. However, when a mixture of carotenoids was taken, immunity was restored.

The first studies on cats and dogs taking a carotene other than beta-carotene were just published. They show that lutein, a carotenoid typically found in corn and green leafy vegetables (also in egg yolk), enhances immunity. In both cases, lutein increases the number of T-cells and strengthens the immune response.

Lycopene is a very common carotenoid in the American diet. It’s the carotenoid that gives tomatoes their red color. Unlike many vitamins, lycopene is heat-stable, and actually becomes more bioavailable in tomato products than in raw tomatoes. Some of the benefits of lycopene include antioxidant protection and cancer prevention. Some commercial manufacturers are starting to add tomatoes to dog food so dogs can get the benefits of lycopene. Recently it was shown that tomato powder worked as well or better than lycopene against prostate cancer.

No Onions! No Chocolate!

Did you know that onions can kill a cat? It's true. They can sicken a dog as well. Onions contain substances that destroy red blood cells. The condition, known as hemolytic anemia, is caused by molecules in onions that create high levels of oxidative stress in animals' blood cells. Glutathione is quickly depleted, and the cells fall apart. Don’t feed your animal baby food without checking the label first. Some brands contain onion powder. Chocolate has similar effects, so steer clear of chocolate and onions.



Cancer prevention and treatment

In addition to carotenoids, plants contain other factors with major benefits for animals. These substances possess powerful antioxidant action. And they also have actions that work against cancer cells. Some of them are so strong, they act like drugs. Apigenin is one of these substances. Found abundantly in parsley and some herbs, apigenin is a flavonoid. Among its many actions is the ability to stop cell growth. It can also inhibit the spread of cancer, and provoke cancer cells into dying. Amazingly, it can also inhibit angiogenesis (growth of new blood vessels) better than genistein which is very powerful. In addition, apigenin can block an enzyme that changes weak estrogen to strong. All of these effects will not only help prevent our animals from getting sick, they have the potential to help them if they do get sick.

Luteolin is another powerful flavonoid. In a comparison of 27 flavonoids, luteolin came in second in the ability to induce differentiation of leukemia cells (apigenin ranked 5th). It seems particularly aggressive against hormone-stimulated cancers. It inhibits an enzyme known as aromatase from converting androstenedione to estrone. Estrone is a “strong” form of estrogen that can drive cancer growth. It's important to pay attention to estrogen blockers because estrogen-like chemicals have infiltrated our environment, and our animals are being exposed to them. In addition to its estrogen-blocking activity, luteolin blocks epidermal growth factor (EGF) which helps cancer cells grow and metastasize.

Also, luteolin is such a good antioxidant that it can help the body withstand radiation and chemotherapy. In a study from Japan, researchers went looking for the factor in rooibos tea that was protecting DNA from radiation-induced free radicals. They discovered that the protective factor is luteolin. They then treated mice with pure luteolin. The flavonoid gave dramatic protection to the bone marrow and spleen against radiation. It was better than any other plant derivative tested (see Free Radicals chart). They then tested luteolin in conjunction with doxorubicin (Adriamycin), a common chemo-therapeutic drug known for its cardiac and bone marrow toxicity. Doxorubicin caused lipid peroxidation to rise in bone marrow to 5.9 times normal and cardiac rose to 1.5 times normal. Luteolin provided dramatic protection against this drug-induced free radical damage. Bone marrow peroxidation decreased 91% and CPK levels (an indication of heart damage) were normalized by luteolin. Importantly, luteolin did not interfere with the therapeutic effects of doxorubicin. Together, the actions of apigenin, and luteolin provide powerful cancer-fighting benefits to our animals.

Can our four-legged friends benefit from the supplements we, ourselves, are taking? The answer is definitely yes. As with ourselves, proper diet and supplements can dramatically improve the health and longevity of our animals.

The oldest cat

Image with Caption
According to Cat Fancy, Grandpa had
bacon and eggs, broccoli, and coffee
with cream every morning for breakfast.
Grandpa also got premium cat food, but
Perry swears by the vegetables.

Grandpa Rex's Allen was the oldest living cat in the world when he died at age 34 (the equivalent of being over 150 years old in human years!). The hairless cat, belonging to Jake Perry of Austin, Texas, was fond of broccoli. He was also known to eat asparagus on occasion. According to Cat Fancy, Grandpa had bacon and eggs, broccoli, and coffee with cream every morning for breakfast. Grandpa also got premium cat food, but Perry swears by the vegetables. Knowing what we do about the health benefits of plants for humans, we're not going to argue.

Dr. Richard Palmquist practices traditional and alternative veterinary medicine in Los Angeles. A graduate of Colorado State University, Dr. Palmquist is Chief of Medicine and Director of Hospital Services at Centinela Animal Hospital in Inglewood, California. His AAHA certified hospital services over 15,000 companion animals and their owners.


Some of the companies that use only human-grade meat in their pet food are Wysong, Neura Wellness, Solid Gold, PetGuard, Canidae and Felidae. These pet foods can be purchased online. (the Animal Protection Institute) has nutrition information.


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