Natural Vs. Synthetic Vitamin C

Now that I’ve discussed why antioxidants are important, I can talk about one of the more famous antioxidants: Vitamin C.

Vitamin C plays an important role in the immune system of humans and dogs.    Vitmain C has been shown to increase the amount of immunoglobulins in the blood.  Immunoglobins, also called antibodies, are enzymes in your body that are responsible for recognizing a disease in your body.  All mammals have very similar immune systems, so what has been discovered that helps with humans will also help with your dog.

One interesting difference between humans and dogs is that dogs can produce their own Vitamin C.  But this doesn’t mean that Vitamin C isn’t important.  Because of the chemical structure of Vitamin C, it dissolves very easily in water, which means that it can leave the body very easily.  So there is no harm in using too much, but the benefits to your dogs body and immune system are great.

However, it’s not as simple as just taking a pill.  Here is the structure for Ascorbic Acid:

This is the main form of Vitamin C, and the form that is most prevalent in Vitamin C pills.  However, the vitamin C in nature has another form that aren’t represented in the pill.  It looks like this:

It seems like a small difference (the Oxygen atoms in the lower part are double bounded), but to a dog’s cells this could make a big difference.  Studies have shown that vitamin C from a citrus extract is 35% better absorbed into the body.  It has also been shown to be absorbed better in red blood cells, which might mean that it is absorbed better in all cells.

This is another case of how synthetic vitamins are misleading – you aren’t really getting what you have paid for.  Vitamins from food sources seem to be better absorbed, and have better health benefits.  So what are good sources of vitamin C?

The best sources of natural Vitamin C are Citrus fruits like Oranges, but don’t feed these to your dog.  Oranges are very acidic and might cause stomach upset.  The best sources for a dog are from green leafy vegetables (but not spinach). I just chop up some lettuce or cabbage  very finely and add them to the meat that I am serving.

References

Thiel R.J. Natural Vitamins may be superior to synthetic ones.  Medical Hypothesis (2000) 55(6), 461-469

Vinson J.A., Bose, P.  Comparative bioavailability to humans of ascorbic acid alone or in a citrus extract.  The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (1988) 48, 601-604

Vinson J. Human Supplementation with different forms of Vitamin C.  University of Scranton,  Scranton PA

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What are antioxidants?

It seems like everyone is talking about how important antioxidants are to health.  It’s certainly true that they are important, but I want to talk about why antioxidants are so important.  And to do this we have to back up a little, and talk about chemistry a little bit.

Everything is made up of atoms.  And these atoms are made up of protons, electrons and neutrons.   The electrons orbit around the center of the atom, like planets around the sun (it’s far more complex then that, but it doesn’t matter for this discussion).  For complicated reasons, only two electrons can use the same orbit at a time.  These two electrons are called electron pairs.

Atoms like having two electrons in all orbits.  This is why atoms form molecular bonds.  A molecular bond is when two atoms share an electron, so that they both can have an electron pair.

In fact, if an atom ends up with with only one electron in an orbit, it won’t last very long.  Chemists call it a “free radical”, and it’s very useful for synthetic chemistry because it’s so reactive.  But the reactivity in your body is not good at all.  Free radicals in your dog’s cells can cause a chain reaction, and can damage your dog’s cells.  But Free radicals are created by normal metabolic processes, so your dog’s cells have natural defense mechanisms.  So what are the defense mechanisms? Antioxidants.

I’ve already spoken about one of the most important antioxidants: Vitamin E.  Vitamin C is another important antioxidant as well (I’ll talk about that one next week).  The structure of vitamin E is such that it is one of the few molecules that can hold a free radical stably.  So once a free radical is created Vitamin E will take the electron, and stop the damage.

As I mentioned, free radicals are created by normal biological processes, but they can also be created through pollution, and radiation.  Free radicals have been implicated in cancer as well.  This makes sense because free radicals can damage DNA just as well as any other compound in the cell.

So antioxidants will slow the occurrence of cancer, and help fend off the effects of radiation and pollution. which is why they are so important.  And remember, as I talked about last week, the best sources for vitamins are natural sources.  I’ll talk about some good sources of Vitamin C next week!

 

 

 

 

 

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Natural and Synthetic Vitamins

I haven’t yet talked about an important aspect of nutrition – vitamins.  You may have noticed, also, that with all of my discussions of supplements, everything I give to my dog is in a natural, food based  form.  There are a lot of reasons for that.

I certainly believe that there is a place for western, Pharmaceutical solutions to disease.  I studied biochemistry and molecular biology, and worked as a medicinal chemist for many years, synthesizing potential cancer cures.  But when I look at nutrition, in both humans and animals, I’ve come to the conclusion that natural sources are the best way to get your nutrition, and the best way to feed your dog.

Vitamins are the name for a set of compounds that are required for many biological functions in the cell.  Vitamins as a group vary widely in how they appear chemically and their molecular functions, so it’s difficult to discuss them without focusing on one particular vitamin at a time.  For this week, I’m going to look at Vitamin E.

Vitamin E is important for the circulatory system, is an important anti-oxidant, and may be an important way for cells to signal each other.  But to understand the difference between natural and synthetic Vitamin E, we need to understand a little more about synthetic chemistry.

This is what the biologically active form of Vitamin E looks like:

The important thing to realize in the picture are the Solid triangles and the dashed triangles.  Molecular compounds are, of course, 3-dimensional objects.   Chemists compensate for this by using the solid triangles and dashed triangles to represent areas where the molecule would go outward, off of the paper and inward, into the paper.

It not terribly important to be able to visualize the molecule perfectly.  The important issue is when you realize that with current chemistry, it is impossible to create only molecules with the specific 3-dimensional structure above.  And very, very difficult to separate the different forms.  So most manufacturers of Vitamin E supplements just don’t do it.

Another piece of this puzzle is that your body, and your dogs’ body, can only use one specific 3-d form.  All of the others are excreted away.  So if you are taking Vitamin supplements that were chemically synthesized, about  half of what you are taking is completely worthless.

Naturally occurring Vitamin E, in foods, will only occur in the form that is usable.  There are studies that show that that vitamin E from natural sources is absorbed twice as effectively as that of synthetic.

What are good food sources for Vitamin E?  A lot of green leafy vegetables and tomatoes, are great for vitamins in general (Spinach may be bad for dogs though).  Squash has a high amount of vitamin E as well.  Of the foods that we’ve disscussed previously, bee pollen, spirulina and flax seed are all sources of vitamin E.

This is another reason why natural foods are great; by supplementing with natural foods, you get many benefits from just one supplement!

References

Thiel, RJ. (2000) Natural vitamins may be superior to synthetic ones.  Medical Hypotheses 55(6): 461-469

Traber, MG; Elsner, A; Brigelius-Flohe, R. (1998) Synthetic as compared with natural vitamin E is preferentially excreted as Alpha-CEHC in human urine: studies using deuterated alpha-tocopheryl acetates.  FEBS Letters 437: 145-148.

Lodge, JK.  (2005) Vitamin E bioavailability in humans.  Journal of plant physiology 162 790-796

 

 

 

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Spirulina

Now that I’ve talked about both Fatty Acids and amino acids, I can talk about another supplement that I give my dog – Spirulina.  Spirulina has become popular because it’s a great source of protein as well as a source for essential fatty acids.

Spirulina gets its name from its shape.  Spirulina is an algae that forms into small spirals.

Spirulina under the microscope (link)

Although the name is recent Spirulina has been around for a very long time.  When Spanish conquistadors came to the new world, they found the Aztec people farming spirulina on lake Texcoco, which is now right next to Mexico city.  Spirulina was harvested by letting it grow on the lake, and then scraping it off of the top and drying it.  Modern Spirulina is grown in similar ways, except that it is grown in a way to protect it from contaminants.

As I mentioned before, Spirulina is a great source of protein – over 60 – 70 % of dry Spirulina is protein.  Spirulina is a complete protein too, although some of the amino acids contents are fairly low.

Spirulina is a great source of both Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, and a lot of vitamins and minerals (although it seems that some people are stressing the amount of vitamin B12 – Spirulina actually has very little B12).   The Omega-3 Fatty Acids available in Spirulina are Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).  This is great because these two compounds are very easily processed by your dog.

I give Spirulina to Tsuki along with bee pollen, even though they are both great sources of protein.  When it comes to supplements, many different sources are better than one!

 

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Omega-3 fatty acids: Fish and Flax Seed

In my previous posts, I talked about essential amino acids and how important they are for your dog.  Now I’d like to talk about Essential Fatty acids, which sound similar, but are very different chemically.

Where amino acids are used to produce enzymes for your dogs cells, fatty acids are used for a various functions in the body, from creation of energy to many different roles in regulation of important cell functions.  Like essential amino acids, essential fatty acids are needed to be included in the diet of your dog.

There are two types of essential fatty acids and you may have heard of them.  They are Omega-6 fatty acids and Omega-3 fatty acids.  But why are they called Omega-3 and Omega-6?  Here are the chemical structures for both:

Eicosapentaenoic acid, an Omega-3 Fatty Acid

Linoleic Acid, An Omega-6 Fatty Acid

In chemistry, every atom in a compound has a number.  Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids get their names from the position of the first double bound towards the end. Again, they look very similar when they are drawn like this, but to a dog’s cells they are very different.

A deficiency in Omega-6 fatty acids can cause dermatitis, slow growth and slow wound healing.  A deficiency in Omega-3 fatty acids can cause memory loss (in humans at least), eye problems, arthritis, and heart problems.  So both types of fatty acids are extremely important, but what most people miss is that there is an important balance between the types of fatty acids.

Many of chronic diseases in the west such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, autoimmune disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and even depression are associated with chemicals in the body that increase with a high Omega-6 : Omega-3 ratio.  It is thought that humans (therefore maybe domestic dogs) have evolved with an Omega-6 : Omega 3 ratio closer to 1:1.  What is the ratio in today’s fast food world?  Closer to 16: 1.

And dog food has followed that path too.  In fact, Omega-3 Fatty acids aren’t even a required nutrient for dog foods (although most dog foods have some amount). Most dog food is based on red meat, which has a very high amount of Omega-6 fatty acids.  As I mentioned in my previous posts, red meat is important for its variety and amount of protein.  But when it comes to Tsuki’s diet, I try to keep an important balance.

Fish is the best meat source for Omega-3 fatty acids, so I feed her meals with fish as often as I can.  Also, if I am feeding her red meat or chicken (her favorite), I either sprinkle on some ground flax seed, or put in a little flax seed oil.  Flax seed has some of the highest amount of Omega-3 Fatty Acids available in plant form.

The key here is balance.  Everything has its place in a diet.  The key is to be aware of what is good for your dog, and to include as much variety as possible.

Tsuki, enjoying a meal with fish

 

References:

1) Simopoulos, A.P., The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids.  Biomedicine and  Pharmacotheropy 56 (2002) 365–379

2) Lauritzen, L., Hansen, H.S., Jùrgensen, M.H., Michaelsen, K.F., The essentiality of long chain n-3 fatty acids in relation to development and function of the brain and retina. Progress in Lipid Research 40 (2001) 1-94

3) Simopoulos, A.P., Evolutionary aspects of omega-3 fatty acids in the food supply.  Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy 60 (2006) 502–507

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Dogs and heat stroke

Now that summer is in full swing, I wanted to talk about something that is extremely important for dog owners: watching out for heat stroke.

Dogs don’t cool down the same way as humans do.  Instead of sweating, panting is the main way that they keep themselves cool on a hot day.  A dogs tongue is thinner and longer than a humans.  When a dog pants, it is pushing air across its tongue and cooling the blood that is circulating through.  This is why a dog will take short, quick breaths when it is hot.

Tsuki after running around with the Frisbee

Dogs also have sweat glands on their paws and their nose, but these factors still make it more difficult for a dog to keep cool than a human.  Because of this, you need to be very careful with your dog in the summer heat.

A dog’s normal temperature is about 101°F (about 28 C).  Anything above 104°F (40 C) is an emergency situation.  Heat stroke can be deadly, or can cause permanent injury to the brain and other internal organs.  More than anything, you need to be aware of what is normal for your dog.  If it is panting too much, or will not get up, or is drifting out of consciousness you need to take immediate action.

If you suspect that your dog is suffering from heatstroke, wrap a wet towel around their head and body.  After that, I recommend giving them a bath of lukewarm water.  Don’t give them a bath with water that is too cold, as it will actually cause a worse reaction.  If you give them a bath with water that is too cold, the blood vessels in their skin will contract, which will push the heat further into your dog’s body.

The best thing to do in the summer is to restrict your dog’s activities when it is hot outside.  Don’t let them run around during day in the summer, and watch out for any signs that your dog is overheating.  And definitely do not leave your dog in the car.  A car can get hot enough to kill in a matter of minutes.

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The Power of Bee Pollen

In my previous posts, I described protein, and then talked about what essential amino acids are.  In summary, amino acids are the building blocks for the enzymes that your dog needs in order to be healthy.  Your dog’s cells can produce all amino acids except for what are called Essential Amino Acids.  A dog has to injest essential amino acids in order to stay healthy.

This has important implications if you are making your dog’s food.  Different types of food has different types of  ratios of amino acids.  In fact a lot of plants are missing some essential amino acids.  So you need to make sure that the protein  content of your dogs food contains a balance of amino acids in the ratio that your dog needs.

This sounds more difficult than it actually is.  Most meat will contain a good amount of essential amino acids, and any excess will be excreted in your dogs urine.  So don’t let this scare you away from cooking for your dog.  In fact a lot of dog food manufacturers will dump chemically synthesized amino acids into the food, so that they can claim that they have a “complete food”.  I plan on getting into this on later posts, but I beleive that the best way for a dog to get all its nutrition is the natural way – through fresh food – not through chemicals.

In any case, in order to make absolutely sure that Tsuki is getting the correct balance of protien, I like to supplement her food with a few foods, one of which is Bee Pollen.

All flowers contain male and female reproductive elements.  Pollen is the male spore of a plant.  In order to reproduce, a plant will release their spores and hopefully a spore will come into contact with a flower stigma, which completes the reproduction cycle.  Where do bees fit in?  Bees collect pollen because it has a great diversity of nutrients.   Flowers have evolved to accept animals like bees because it allows them to spread their pollen more efficiently.

The great thing about the pollen collected from bees is that bees have a great ability to collect only the best, most nutritious pollen.  Besides honey, pollen is all that bees eat.  So bees have evolved to know which pieces are the best, and only collect those.  The bees then add honey or nectar to the pollen and an enzyme that prevents the pollen from germinating.  The bees then carry it back to the hive.  The bee pollen that we eat is collected from small traps outside the hive, created so that bees drop some of the pollen that they have collected.

Bee pollen contains all essential and non-essential amino acids.  Bee pollen has more protein than than the same size of red meat!  Besides this, bee pollen contains nearly every known vitamin and mineral necessary for a healthy diet.  It is loaded with antioxidants and has been shown to have anti-microbial activity.

Bee Pollen is a great supplement to add to your dog’s food.  Along with other supplements, it can ensure that your dog is getting all the nutrients that your dog needs in a healthy, natural way!

 

 

 

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Essential Amino Acids for Dogs

In my previous post, I talked about protein, and touched on what amino acids are.  Essentially, amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, or enzymes.  Each protein has to have a very specific shape in order to work, and this is created by a specific sequence of amino acids.  There are 22 amino acids in most living things, and all mammals use the same set.

The full collection of amino acids - collect all 22!

Because every protein has to have a specific amino acid sequence, it is very important for every cell to have an abundant amount of amino acids.  Because of this, a cell has evolved different mechanisms for converting certain amino acids into others.  For example, Alanin can be produced by the cell, so there is no dietary need to eat it.

However, there are about 10 amino acids that dogs can not produce themselves.  These amino acids need to be in a dog’s food, or serious deficiencies will result.  Hence the word “essential”.   These amino acids are absolutely essential to a dogs diet.

How do you ensure that a dog in getting the proper amount?  Most meat will contain all the necessary amino acids that your dog needs. A lot of plant protein is missing one or two of the essential amino acids.  I supplement Tsuki’s food with both Spirulina and Bee Pollen, which I’ll talk about in later posts, to ensure that everything she needs is there. Spirulina and Bee Pollen are both “complete proteins”, meaning that they have all the essential amino acids available.

 

 

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Protein – What is it Really?

Protein is extremely important for a dog.  In fact, it’s pretty important for all life.  Many people take the importance of it for granted but I always like to ask the question: OK, but Why?

Protein is also Tsuki's favorite food

To answer that question, we have to go back a little bit to the chemistry of the cell.  Each cell of your body is going through thousands of chemical reactions every second.  Most of these reactions will not work if just left on their own.  For example, sugar gets converted to energy in a cell.   To do this it has to undergo a number of chemical changes.  But if you just let sugar sit in water, nothing happens.  To push the reaction forward, it needs a catalyst.

The definition of a catalyst is something that helps a chemical reaction along, but remains unchanged.  In synthetic chemistry, we use other chemicals, and even metals, to complete the reactions.  What do cells use? They use enzymes.

Every reaction in your cells has a unique enzyme.  There are different types of enzymes, and millions of enzymes in each cell.  Each enzyme has a very specific shape that only works for the compound that it is the catalyst for.  Enzymes get this shape because they have a specific amino acid sequence.  Hundreds and thousands of amino acids fold in a certain way to get their unique shape.

The Hexokinase enzyme, one of the many that turns sugar into energy. Like all enzmes, it is made up of amino acids.

Enzymes are fairly fragile though.  They break down fairly easily outside the cell.  When a enzyme breaks down it unfolds and can no longer work.  This is what protein is.  I usually use the word protein and enzyme interchangeably, but the technically all protein is an enzyme that is either working or unraveled.

Protein is important because it contains the amino acids that are necessary to create new enzymes for your dog.  During the digestion process, the protein is broken down into amino acids and redistributed to the body by red blood cells and blood plasma.  Once inside the cell the amino acids are reconfigured to create whatever protein your dog’s cells needs.

So protein is important because of the amino acids that it contains.  These get reconfigured by your dogs’ cell to make… more protein.

 

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The Power Of Garlic

My past posts have focused on onions, but now I’d like to talk about a distant cousin: garlic.  I say distant cousin, but they are taxonomically very similar.  But if they are similar, why is onion bad and garlic good?  I don’t think anyone is quite sure, actually.  They both have similar chemistry, but garlic has a lot less of the chemicals that cause Heinz-body anemia.

So garlic isn’t bad.  But why do I think its good?  There are many great things about garlic – it is a great natural antibiotic, antiviral, its great to treat fleas and parasites, and has vitamins and minerals to boot.

But does garlic have all of these great qualities?

This plant smells better than Garlic, but isn't as healthy...

Garlic has some of the most sulfur compounds of any food, but the main active compound in garlic is called Allicin:

On it’s own, Allicin has been shown to have a great amount of the antibacterial properties that has been shown in raw garlic.  However, the mystery deepens.  You see, Aliicin isn’t actually in a clove of Garlic.  How is this so?

The compound that is in garlic is called Aliin.  You can tell by the name that its a close relative.

So here is the interesting thing.  When garlic is crushed, an enzyme in the garlic called Alliinase converts Alliin into Allicin.  So one of the compounds that is most important in garlic doesn’t actually exist in garlic.

I haven’t really been able to find any scientific journals supporting this, but I have a theory. Maybe if you let garlic sit for a couple minutes after crushing it, it will be a more powerful antibiotic? It would let the Allinase enzyme produce more of the Allicin that has been effective.  Again, just a theory, but it would make sense.

As I mentioned before, Garlic has many, many, many benefits, each with, presumably, a chemical constituent that is responsible for its effects.   I’m sure I’ll come back to the wonders of Garlic in future articles!

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