Orthomolecular medicine (often called “megavitamin therapy”) seeks to use increased levels of vitamins and minerals to help treat a variety of medical disorders. Orthomolecular medicine uses higher doses than daily vitamins as part of the therapy for disease.
The pet food industry relies on recommendations by the National Research Council to prevent diseases caused by nutrient deficiencies in the “average” pet, yet the NRC has not determined the optimum amount of nutrients or their effects in treating medical disorders. It is also important to realize there is no “average” pet. It is unlikely our current recommendations are adequate to maintain health in every pet.
Owners should not diagnose and treat their pets without veterinary supervision. Many medical disorder present similar symptoms. Also, megavitamin therapy can be toxic if not used properly.
The initial approach to orthomolecular therapies involves a hypoallergenic diet free of by-products, chemical preservatives, fillers, and artificial colorings and flavorings to decrease potential hypersensitivity within the gastrointestinal tract.
Treatment uses vitamin A (10,000 IU for small dogs and cats, up to 30,000 IU for large dogs) and vitamin E (800 IU for small dogs and cats, up to 2400 IU for large dogs). The antioxidant mineral selenium (20 mcg for small dogs and cats, up to 60 mcg for large dogs) is also added to the regimen. Once asymptomatic, a maintenance protocol using gradually lower dosages of vitamins A and E, and selenium are prescribed to reduce the chance for toxicity.
Ascorbic acid is not used due to its cholinergic effect on the intestinal tract which can worsen diarrhea.
Enzymes are used for a variety of functions in pets. Cellular processes, digestion, and absorption of dietary nutrients are dependent upon the proper enzymes. Most commonly owners often think of enzymes as necessary for digestion of food. In fact, enzymes produced by the pancreas are essential for digestion of nutrients in the diet. Once properly digested by pancreatic enzymes, the dietary nutrients can be absorbed by the pet.
The pancreas produces amylase, lipase, and various proteases. Amylase is used for digesting carbohydrates, lipase is used for digesting fats, and proteases are used by the body to digest proteins.
While it is true the pancreas produces enzymes to aid in food digestion, additional enzymes found in the diet contribute to digestion and absorption as well and may enhance food efficiency. Natural raw diets contain a number of chemicals, including enzymes not found in processed diets. Processing often alters the nutrients found in a pet’s food, depleting it of important nutrients and enzymes. Enzymes are broken down in the presence of temperatures of 120 to 160 degrees F, and in freezing temperatures. Supplying additional enzymes through the use of supplementation can replenish enzymes absent in processed foods. Even pets on natural raw diets can often benefit from additional enzymes, which is why they are often recommended as a supplement.
In addition, various stressors such as illness, stress, allergies, food intolerance, age, and various orally administered medications can decrease gastrointestinal function. This results in poor digestion and absorption of the nutrients in the diet.
How Do Enzymes Work?
There is nothing magical about the enzymes themselves. They only work by liberating essential nutrients from the pet’s diet. While we don’t know all the things that enzymes do, it is known certain enzyme supplements can increase the absorption of essential vitamins, minerals, and certain fatty acids from the diet. Increased absorption of zinc, selenium, vitamin B6 and linoleic acid have been detected following plant enzyme supplementation.
Doctors can prescribe pancreatic enzymes, microbial enzymes, or plant enzymes. Pancreatic enzymes are adequate for pets with pancreatic disease where enzyme production and function is inadequate.
Enzymes have been recommended for various disorders, including inflammatory bowel disease. The plant enzymes are active over a much wider pH range than pancreatic enzymes and are the preferred enzymes for most pets. Plants contain the enzyme cellulase. Dogs and cats do not normally have cellulase in their bodies and that’s why they can only digest some of the plant material in their diets.
Supplementations that contain cellulase in addition to the normal lipase, amylase, and proteases seem to be more advantageous as these products liberate chemicals such as zinc, selenium, and linoleic acid that might be bound by fiber.
In one study, supplementing the diet with additional zinc did not confer the same benefits as supplementation with plant enzymes. Apparently, the plant enzymes liberate other nutrients in the diet in addition to zinc resulting in positive benefits that did not occur simply by increasing the nutrient zinc.
Since response is variable regarding the product used, if one does not help, another supplement might. Since enzymes are inactivated by heat, they cannot be added to warm food or mixed with warm water. Rather, they are simply sprinkled on the room temperature food at the time of feeding.
Enzyme supplementation is inexpensive, safe, and easy to administer in pill or powder form. Your doctor can help you decide which product and dosage is best for your pet’s condition.
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Shawn Messonnier, DVM
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Shawn Messonnier DVM Past Supporting Member, Oncology Association of Naturopathic Physicians Author, the award-winning The Natural Health Bible for Dogs & Cats, The Natural Vet’s Guide to Preventing and Treating Cancer in Dogs, and Breast Choices for the Best Chances: Your Breasts, Your Life, and How YOU Can Win The Battle!
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