What is an “antioxidant”?
Oxidation is a normal chemical process by which an animal’s body gets energy from its diet. However, oxidation also produces byproducts in the form of highly reactive, unbound (free) chemicals called radicals or oxidants. These oxidants float throughout the body seeking other molecules to bind to, a process that includes tearing molecules away from virtually any cells in the body, thereby damaging those cells. Fortunately, oxidants can be neutralized by antioxidants before they have a chance to inflict damage. Just as oxidants float in the body searching for molecules to bind with, antioxidants float in the body searching for oxidants to bind with. When antioxidants meet with oxidants, they join together, and thereby neutralize each other.
Too much of a good thing? Can a body have too many antioxidants?
There is not nearly as much research on the harm antioxidants cause as on the harm caused by oxidants. This is likely because a lack of antioxidants is far more prevalent in humans and pets alike. However, a few studies have shown that too many antioxidants can be harmful. As such, young, healthy animals that get a moderate amount of exercise and show no signs of oxidative stress can get enough antioxidants from an antioxidant rich diet, and thus do not require supplementation. But in aging animals, those suffering from a chronic condition (such as Cushing’s), those that are exposed to environmental toxins and those that do not get regular exercise, supplementation is almost certainly needed to address oxidative stress.
What is “oxidative stress”? How does it affect your pet (and you!)?
Oxidative stress occurs when there are more oxidants in the body than antioxidants.
Oxidative stress is more pronounced with aging, strenuous (as opposed to regular, moderate) exercise, polluted environments (including exposure to cigarette smoke and poor air and water quality), low-antioxidant diets and chronic diseases (including cancer, Cushing’s disease, Ehrlichiosis etc.). Further read here, here, here and here.
Oxidative stress in animals increases muscle fatigue, fiber damage and eventually impairs the immune system. Further read here and here.
Oxidative stress also eventually leads to dis-functioning neuronal cells, sleep disturbance, decreased activity, heart failure and, in older animals, severe behavioral and cognitive deficits. Further read here and here.
Effect of antioxidants on oxidative stress:
Although the body’s defense system has naturally occurring antioxidants, dietary supplementation is often needed to boost antioxidant levels. Because illness generally leads to oxidative stress, antioxidants are recommended as a supplemental treatment when treating virtually any canine, equine or animal medical condition. Further read here, here and here.
Due to enhanced oxidative stress and cardiovascular anomalies in Cushing’s animals, antioxidants are recommended both to reduce the severity of the disease and to boost the immune system. Further read here, here and here.
Lignans and their antioxidant nature:
Fortunately, as it relates to Cushing’s disease, the leading holistic treatment regimen for the underlying hormonal imbalance also supplies one of the best forms of antioxidants available. Specifically, lignans are an excellent source of antioxidants. Lignans are chemical compounds found in many plant materials such as flax seeds, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, other cereals, soybeans, broccoli, other vegetables, legumes and some berries.
However, the single best-known source of naturally occurring lignans are flax seeds. The primary lignan found in flaxseed is secoisolariciresinol diglucoside (SDG). After ingestion, SDG metabolizes into secoisolariciresinol (SECO) and eventually into the mammalian lignans enterodiol (ED) and enterolactone (EL). (The other principal supplement lignans, HMR lignans, undergo a similar metabolization into EL, but without as many intermediate steps.) The SDG itself and each of those metabolites (SECO, ED and EL) have been shown to have substantial antioxidant content. Further read here, here and here.
Antioxidants can act within the cell (intracellular) or extracellularly in body fluids (serum). Flax derived lignans have both intracellular and extracellular antioxidant activity. Further read here and here.
Other sources of anti-oxidants:
Obviously, a diet rich in antioxidants such as vegetables and fruits can enhance antioxidant levels in the body. High antioxidant foods include: beans (small red, kidney, pinto and black), cranberries, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, prunes, apples (red delicious, gala and granny smith), pecans, plums, russet potatoes (cooked), cabbage, broccoli, and barley grasses. In addition, supplements with high antioxidant content include many of the same supplements that treat other signs and symptoms of Cushing’s: SAMe (for liver and neurotransmitter support), milk thistle (for liver support), CoQ10 (to support the heart and boost energy levels), eggshell membrane (for joint support), turmeric (to fight inflammation), and fish oils (to fight inflammation). Other supplements that are high in antioxidants include: essential oils, green tea extract, rosemary extract, ascorbic acid and derivatives, BHT, BHA and ethoxyquin (EQ). Further read here, here and here.