Current medical science, in both human and veterinary fields, recognizes chronic inflammation as a key component in all disease.
In fact, every chronic disease we can name is essentially an inflammatory condition. This includes common ailments like:
- Autoimmune disease
- Heart disease
This means learning how to prevent and reverse inflammation will go a long way toward preventing or minimizing disease, as well as slowing the aging process and keeping our pets (and ourselves) healthy and more vigorous for a lifetime.
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All About Inflammation
What is inflammation? It’s the body’s response to injury, irritation or infection. This is normally a natural and healthy process. It’s what helps the body repair wounds and clean up debris resulting from injury or toxins.
This means that inflammation is beneficial when needed, but it can be disastrous when it remains in a chronic state. Chronic inflammation generates a constant supply of free radicals that overwhelm the body’s antioxidant defenses and ultimately damages the DNA. Free radicals are harmful because they create microscopic damage to the body’s cells. This damage is called oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is what leads to the “aging” process, and is also what causes disease of every description.
At the root of inflammation and disease is oxidative stress. In fact, more than 200 diseases have been linked to oxidative stress, and research on this topic is mounting.
Yes, oxidative stress is a “normal” event that occurs in the body and contributes to the natural process of aging. But it’s the excessive and gradual accumulation of microscopic damage to cell membranes, DNA and enzyme systems that leads to dysfunction of the organs and the immune system. This causes the body to be more vulnerable to disease.
[Related] Are NSAIDs causing inflammation in your dog? Read this for more.
Where Do Free Radicals Come From?
The body actually produces these damaging molecules as a normal part of living, breathing, eating and digestion. As such, this ongoing process is normal and the body does need a certain balance of free radicals for healthy functioning.
But, free radicals are also produced in the environment all around us. In the form of sunlight, pollution, toxins in food and water, EMFs (electromagnetic frequencies) from wi-fi devices and cellular towers, and also importantly – from poor diets and heavily processed foods.
Of course, most dogs eat processed foods, drink tap water, and are routinely treated with insecticides to control parasites. They’re also exposed to fairly high levels of pesticides in the grass and the environment. The fact is, as technology and society progress, both pets and people are being exposed to more and more environmental and food based toxins leading to cellular damage. This helps to explain why cancers and degenerative diseases in animals and humans alike are becoming more common.
The consistent heavy burden of free radicals creates an imbalance. With too many free radicals (or too few antioxidants), the result is destruction of cell membranes and DNA. This leads to tissue and organ damage and a wide variety of chronic diseases.
Breaking Free Of Free Radicals
Fortunately, the body is designed to help protect its cells from free radical damage. It has its own internal and powerful network of antioxidant enzymes for this. It also uses outside sources of antioxidants from nutrients found in foods. Antioxidants are compounds that react with and inactivate free radicals so they can’t cause cellular damage. In this way, antioxidants help to protect every cell, tissue and organ in the body.
With this knowledge, medical and nutritional science have started recommending consumption of (both food-based and synthetically produced) antioxidants in an attempt to combat oxidative stress. Over recent years, companies have added multitudes of antioxidant-based products to the market. Many of these are synthetic isolates of vitamin C, vitamin E and beta-carotene.
Unfortunately, antioxidants in the form of high-dose synthetic vitamin supplements are actually linked to more harmful effects than benefits.
By contrast, natural food-based antioxidants are known to help reduce the incidence of chronic diseases like heart disease and cancer. But the imbalance (or overload of oxidative stress) is difficult to manage with foods alone. Dietary nutrients have a limited capacity, because molecules of nutrient-based antioxidants (direct antioxidants) can only neutralize free radicals at a direct 1:1 ratio.
The good news is the body’s own internally produced antioxidants (indirect antioxidants) are far more powerful in counteracting the damaging effects of free radicals compared to food-derived antioxidants. The body actually makes antioxidant enzymes such as SOD (superoxide dismutase), glutathione, and catalase. These are exponentially more effective at scavenging free radicals because they deactivate millions of free radicals every second. This powerful antioxidant network is like the body’s own internal army that gets deployed when there’s a need to fight off any threats.
There’s no doubt that antioxidant foods and good nutrition can have a significant impact on health and disease. However, with expanding research we’re beginning to understand how we can use specific nutrients to promote successful aging and resilience to inflammation and disease.
[Related] There are several other natural sources of antioxidants. Find 7 weird ones here.
Nutrigenomics – How Nutrients Affect DNA
Nutrigenomics is an exciting new topic in the field of health and wellness. It involves the study of how food nutrients affect the DNA and the activity of genes, especially with regard to the prevention and treatment of disease. This means that the presence of certain genes is not the only factor in the development of disease. Many other factors can affect the DNA and the expression of genes:
- External factors (diet, exposure to chemicals and other toxins)
- Internal factors (hormones and stress)
In other words, many factors can act upon the genes to ultimately influence both lifespan and healthspan.
Most of us know we can help our pets age more gracefully with early and proactive choices that promote resistance to disease. However, even with patterns of disease and chronic inflammation already present, we can now look to new ways of helping the body heal and repair. One way of approaching successful aging and minimizing chronic inflammation is to support health at a cellular (root) level.
This is where the emerging science of the Nrf2 pathway comes in.
The Pathway To Success
In the mid 1990s, researchers discovered Nrf2 (nuclear factor (erythroid derived 2)-like 2). Nrf2 is a DNA transcription factor that turns on the production of SOD, glutathione, and other internal antioxidant enzymes. The Nrf2 pathway has been referred to as the master regulator of antioxidant, detoxification and cell defense gene expression.
In essence, Nrf2 is a protein messenger that exists within each cell of the body and functions as the master regulator of the body’s own protection system. This means that Nrf2 is responsible for detecting cellular damage.
Once damage is detected, Nrf2 responds by signaling the DNA to produce powerful antioxidant enzymes, anti-inflammatory proteins, and detoxification or “stress response” genes. Therefore, the Nrf2 signaling pathway literally helps the body to heal itself. It’s even been called “a guardian of healthspan and gatekeeper of species longevity”.
Research has shown, however, that as the body ages, the Nrf2 activity begins to decline. Fortunately, it’s now known that activation of the Nrf2 pathway can be triggered by certain foods and herbs, and also by exercise and other lifestyle choices (such as intermittent fasting). This gives us an exciting new approach to addressing health and wellness at a cellular (root) level and also through the use of nutrigenomics.
Recent research has found that Nrf2 activation plays a largely protective, beneficial role in numerous diseases. This has led researchers to examine ways that we might harness Nrf2 activation using specific dietary supplements and medications. To date, several pharmaceutical medications that stimulate the Nrf2 pathway are being used or studied for the treatment of various diseases.
Luckily for those of us looking for a more natural approach, it’s now recognized that a variety of foods and natural herbs act directly upon the Nrf2 pathway. These include substances like sulforaphane (found in broccoli), turmeric, green tea extract and many others.
Promoting Nrf2 Activation
There are now specific herbal products that have been developed as dietary supplements to promote Nrf2 activation. It has been found that a specific synergistic blend of herbs can produce far more action than single doses of herbs.
A particular patented blend, created in a product called Protandim, contains 5 active ingredients (milk thistle, bacopa, turmeric, green tea and ashwaganda) that work to effectively reduce oxidative stress in humans by an average of 40 percent in 30 days.
This same synergistic blend was also created as a canine-specific product, now called Petandim, after demonstrating that it effectively reduced oxidative stress in dogs, as evidenced in blood tests and clinical results of improved mobility, flexibility and cognitive function.
In summary, as numerous diseases and degenerative conditions are linked to oxidative stress, affecting activation of the Nrf2 pathway allows a fundamental approach to affect and improve health at a cellular level. This is beneficial from both a treatment (therapeutic) and a preventative standpoint.
In fact, a 2015 scientific review article from Washington State University stated, “we may be on the verge of new literature on health effects of Nrf2 which may well become the most extraordinary therapeutic and the most extraordinary preventative breakthrough in the history of medicine”. The same researchers went on to say, “it is our opinion that raising Nrf2 is likely to be the most important health promoting approach into the foreseeable future”.