Antioxidant supplements are powerful tools for your dog’s health, but choosing the right one for your individual needs requires detective work.
Antioxidants are potent natural medicines. They provide support for a variety of problems in dogs and reduce inflammation in normal, healthy animals. They are so important that I recommend antioxidant supplements to all my patients. This article discusses the value of antioxidants and also presents some veterinary tests – CRP, CT and vitamin D3 – that you can use to determine your dog’s inflammatory burden and the right antioxidants for him.

Antioxidants to fight free radicals.

Antioxidants are molecules that reduce oxidation and oxidative cell damage in your dog’s body. Oxidation is a chemical reaction that occurs in the body all the time through cell damage and cell death. Basically, when chemicals (oxidants, also called free radicals) are released from damaged cells, they damage healthy cells in that area. (Note that free radicals are normally produced during everyday life and can increase with exercise and exposure to environmental pollutants, toxins and chemicals, including vaccines and flea and tick medications.)

Antioxidants produced by cells help limit this damage. Cells produce both free radicals and antioxidants; under normal conditions, there is a balance between acceptable damage and cellular protection by adjusting the production of oxidants and antioxidants. But when oxidative damage overwhelms the antioxidant systems, disease can occur. The diseases that develop depend on the most damaged tissues, but holistic physicians believe that any disease that is not directly caused by a toxin or microorganism is caused by oxidation and inflammation. Some of the typical diseases I see in my practice that are related to oxidation and inflammation are cancer, arthritis, allergies, inflammatory bowel and bladder diseases, seizures and cognitive disorders.

Use antioxidant supplements under veterinary supervision.

Vitamins E, A and C are known examples of antioxidants. Other potent antioxidants include glutathione, melatonin, coenzyme Q10, peroxidase and catalase. Many herbs also have antioxidant properties (e.g., oregano, rosemary, thyme, sage, and mint).

However, it is important to know that an antioxidant supplement such as vitamin C can sometimes act as a pro-oxidant, so it is important not to grab a supplement off the shelf and use it without veterinary supervision.
It is also important to know that the names of antioxidants, especially vitamins, can be misleading. For example, “vitamin E” sold as a dietary supplement is often actually alpha-tocopherol, one of the many components of “vitamin E.” Using only alpha-tocopherol when vitamin E is more appropriate may not help the animal and may even harm it. In studies showing negative effects of antioxidants, such as vitamins A and E, often only part of the vitamin molecule was used instead of leaving the entire complex intact.
Finally, the dosage is also important. In human studies, high doses of antioxidants have sometimes been found to cause side effects, interact with other supplements or medications, or aggravate the disease. Although not well studied in companion animal medicine, human studies suggest that some antioxidants are more effective than others for certain diseases. Since we do not yet have enough data to guide us, the best we can do as veterinarians is to use our knowledge to prescribe what we believe is the best treatment for each animal.

Inflammation and Oxidation Testing

One way to help us prescribe antioxidant supplements correctly is to test an animal’s inflammatory load. There is no specific test routinely performed to check for excessive oxidation levels in pets, but we can test for inflammation.

The best, simplest, and least expensive test is the CRP test, C-reactive protein. CRP is produced by the liver and increases when there is inflammation in the body. CRP is one of the acute phase reactive proteins that increases in response to inflammation. In fact, when white blood cells called macrophages and T cells are stimulated, they produce cytokine chemicals such as interleukin-6, which causes the liver to produce more CRP. Various inflammatory conditions, such as cancer and heart disease, traumatic tissue injury, constant hard stress and cell death, can increase CRP levels. Infections with bacteria and fungi can also stimulate synthesis. (In humans, but not in dogs, fat cells stimulate high levels of CRP; increased body weight is a common cause of low-grade inflammation in humans and predisposes them to inflammatory diseases.)

CRP increases within two hours of the onset of inflammation and peaks at 48 hours. Its half-life in humans is approximately 18 hours; in dogs, high levels of CRP continue to be measured one to two weeks after the initial insult. Therefore, dogs with elevated CRP levels have something internal that is causing the inflammation, and further testing is needed.

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