Food as Medicine
Food as Medicine a timeless idea:
Over 2000 years ago, the father of medicine, Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” And 5000 years ago, Ayurvedic medicine told us “When diet is wrong, medicine is of no use. When diet is correct, medicine is of no need.” These ideas are as appropriate today as they were then. Now, modern science can explain why they are so true.
Food is information:
Food provides information for the cells of our bodies. The nutrients in foods provide more than just energy and building blocks for muscle and bone, they also provide nutrients for proper enzyme and hormone function, normal detoxification and the support of our microbiome which is the population of bacteria, viruses and fungi that live in our gut. On the other hand, pesticides and toxins in foods can disrupt the bacterial balance in our digestive tract causing inflammation which can lead to leaky gut and autoimmune disease. Some can block absorption of vital nutrients, create hormonal imbalances and cause neurologic damage.
A Healthy Gut Microbiome is Essential for a Healthy Pet:
The microbiome is part of the first line of defense against entry of foreign material through the gut lining. In fact, the gut microbiome performs many other helpful roles. A healthy balanced gut microbiome, with proper nutrition:
• Produces necessary vitamins as well as short chain fatty acids to feed and heal the gut lining and regulate inflammation
• Protects against colonization by pathogens
• Produces hormones
• Breaks down plant materials that would otherwise be indigestible
• Modulates the immune response at many levels
On the other hand, dysbiosis, the imbalance of gut microbes is associated with various diseases;
• Overgrowth of pathogens, the microbes that cause disease
• Inflammatory Bowel Disease
• Leaky Gut syndrome
• Colorectal cancer
• Rheumatoid arthritis
• Heart disease
• Mood and behavior issues. (1)
Toxins in Food:
We must remember that the food we feed our pets also feeds their microbiome. The food should not be toxic to microbes, and should select for the population of microbes that creates a healthy and functioning community. It is known that genetically modified foods, especially those that are resistant to the herbicide Round Up, damage the microbiome and potentially select for pathogenic bacteria. The active ingredient in Round Up, glyphosate, is known to be a non-specific antibiotic (4,5). Significant residues of glyphosate remain on these crops. Round Up Ready GMO crops include corn, soy and canola. In addition, farmers use glyphosate as a drying agent, just prior to the harvest of wheat. This is why I recommend a grain free diet for all pets unless it is organic.
Lately we have been hearing a lot about the risks of eating large amounts of advanced glycation end-products, AGE’s, in the development of everything from kidney disease to Alzheimer’s.(7) AGE’s occur naturally in high fat foods, including animal products, but are significantly increased in heat processed foods. (8) Preliminary studies suggest that this is also true with dry pet foods (9). More studies are needed to verify the impact on our pet’s health, but it is likely that they suffer similar damage from these toxins as other mammals do.
Our Pets are Carnivores:
Foods also must be appropriate to the animal digestive tract to ensure full digestion, because undigested food looks like a foreign invader to the immune system and can cause inflammation. Dogs and cats are carnivores with teeth that are designed for tearing, not grinding of plant material. They have minimal to absent amylase in their saliva to start the breakdown of starches in plants. Their short digestive tract allows them to efficiently digest animal proteins but is not long enough for the necessary breakdown and fermentation of plant materials.
It is known that, even in humans who are designed to eat plant materials, high carbohydrate diets, select for a bacterial population that is associated with diabetes, obesity and cancer. Since our pets have no nutritional need for carbohydrate, it follows that pet foods should be animal based and high in protein with minimal carbohydrates.
Some Plants are Helpful, even for Carnivores:
But we don’t need to leave out the vegetables altogether. In fact, a 2005 study showed that feeding some types of vegetables, like green leafy or yellow-orange vegetables, can significantly decrease the risk of certain cancers in dogs. (6) Including some fresh foods, especially colorful vegetables will likely reduce the negative effects of AGE’s. Perhaps this is one of the reasons our pets like to munch on grasses. So, consider offering your cats some kitty grass if they live indoors and offer your dogs small amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables to round out their diet.
And don’t forget the herbs. Herbs are the classic example of food as medicine and can be quite potent in supporting overall health or alleviating your pet of many symptoms. But, always seek the advice of a knowledgeable veterinarian or herbalist before offering any herbs to your pets. Some herbs that are good for you, may be toxic to your furry friend.