Photo: Vic Neumann
Creating and maintaining a strong immune system is an important part of good health. Toxins like vaccines, wormers, drugs and processed foods all present a challenge to the immune system, making our dogs more susceptible to disease and parasites. Despite our efforts to the contrary, our dogs are exposed to a number of toxins every day including hormones, vaccines and antibiotics in their meat, genetically modified and processed foods, hard metals and pesticides.
The dog’s digestive system does much more than simply digest food. Approximately 80% of your dog’s immunity is found in his gut. The dog’s intestinal tract has the ability to identify and destroy alien substances such as bacteria, viruses, parasites and chemical toxins. It also has a built-in memory to recall the specific type of invader next time it presents a threat.
Additionally, the immune system is also an internal communication system comprised of a network of integrated cells to protect your dog. When there is a faulty connection, messages sent to the immune cells are misinterpreted and the ability to differentiate between your dog’s own cells and the invaders ceases and it begins to destroy healthy cells and tissues. This presents as autoimmune disorders including allergies, arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome, food allergies, yeast overgrowth, liver disease and cancer.
Periodic house cleaning is essential for a strong immune system. The burden of digestion demands all of the resources of the immune system. If your dog is constantly digesting food, the immune system does not have the time or resources to stay in peak form. Regular fasting can help the immune system detoxify years of toxic build-up and restore normal homeostatic balance.
Benefits of Regular Fasting
Elevated Macrophage Activity: Macrophages engulf and destroy bacteria, viruses and other foreign substances. They can ingest worn-out or abnormal body cells. Macrophages form an important first line of defense against harmful particles that have reached the body’s interior. Bolstering the body’s macrophages is often a course of treatment recommended for autoimmune diseases and even some forms of cancer. Once the macrophages and other immune system components have essentially digested the body’s dead cells, the cells make their way through the bloodstream and eventually into the digestive system for final disposition. This means that the solid waste we call fecal matter is largely composed of dead cells sloughed off by the various organs and processed for elimination by macrophages. This process is dramatically increase during fasting as catabolism increases cellular breakdown to be utilized for fuel.
Increased Immunoglobulin Levels: Immunoglobulin is used to provide passive immunity to a variety of diseases such as immune mediated hemolytic anemia.
Increased Neutrophil Bactericidal Activity: Neutrophils engulf bacteria and other microorganisms. When a bacterium is engulfed by a neutrophil, a metabolic process within the granules produces hydrogen peroxide and a highly active form of oxygen called “superoxide”, which destroy the ingested bacteria.
Heightened Monocyte Killing and Bacterial Function: Monocytes are capable of ingesting infectious agents and other large particles. Monocytes usually enter areas of inflamed tissue or at sites of chronic infections.
Enhanced Natural Killer Cell Activity:Natural killer cells were first recognized in 1975. Researchers observed cells in the blood and lymphoid tissues that could kill tumor cells and cells infected with viruses. Most immunologists feel that natural killer cells play an important part in checking the growth of tumor cells and cells infected with some viruses.
An experiment was conducted by Mark Mattson and his team at the National Institute on Aging. Mattson fed mice nothing every other day. The mice could eat as much as they wanted on the days in between, and they did. They pigged out. They ended up eating very nearly double what normal mice eat in a day.
But fasting every other day caused them to live longer and healthier lives. A lot longer and a lot healthier. The researchers don’t exactly know what to make of it. Mattson said, “We think what happens is going without food imposes a mild stress on the cells, and cells respond by increasing their ability to cope with more severe stress.” He said maybe it’s similar to what happens when you lift weights: You stress your muscles and they respond by growing stronger.
Near the very end of the study, they injected all the mice (those fasting every other day, and those eating a normal diet) with a toxin that damages the cells in the same part of the brain Alzheimer’s damages in humans (the hippocampus). Mattson and his team later looked at the brains of the mice and found that those that had been fasting every other day suffered less damage to their brain cells.
Recent studies suggest that such fasting may also promote recovery after acute spinal cord injury. Specifically, Drs. Ward Plunet and Wolfram Tetzlaff (photo), University of British Columbia randomized rats with experimental cervical injuries into control animals with free access to food, and those with access only every other day starting immediately after injury.
Compared to controls, fasted rats had improved functional recovery, smaller injury-site lesions, and increased neuronal regeneration.
The investigators concluded that EOD-fasting “can have benefits when initiated after the insult” … “Most importantly, intermittent fasting is a safe and simple multifaceted treatment that could be clinically implemented to improve functional recovery in patients.”
Tetzlaff noted: “We believe that a rigorous re-evaluation of nutritional guidelines for acutely injured patients is in order,” and are planning more basic-science experiments (toward a mechanistic understanding as well as a further corroboration of the principle in different SCI-lesion models). Hopefully this will provide the basis for clinical trials.”
The investigators think that fasting affects the body’s immune response, resulting in fewer, regeneration-blocking immune cells reaching the injury site.
Fasting your dog every week or so can yield tremendous health benefits. Make sure he has plenty of water and only fast adult dogs: puppies need a much more regular source of nutrition.