HEALTH BENEFITS OF THE ABC PLANS
Amount of fat, protein, and carbohydrate based upon the ancestral diet
Balance the fats
Complete the nutrition with fresh foods
We humans know that if we eat a healthy diet, which includes lean meats, balanced fats, and plenty of fruits and vegetables, we are more likely to live longer, healthier, happier lives. The science is indisputable. The same is true with our dogs. The closer we get to feeding them their ancestral diet, the better off they are.
The health benefits of feeding the ABC plans—whether as an ABC day once a week or full time—are substantial and increasingly well documented. I could fill this entire book just listing the hundreds of reports I studied in developing the ABC plans. Instead, I’ll recommend books and websites for those who want to study the issues further at the back of the book and provide citations where I discuss specific studies. For those studies that I think the reader will find most interesting, I have provided a more complete list of references on my website, www.seespotlivelonger.com.
These health benefits include: • Healthier cells.
• Better brains.
• Better eye health.
• Stronger hearts.
• Keeps extra weight off.
• Less chance of common health problems.
• Lower risk of cancer.
The balance of fats a dog consumes has a profound influence on the dogs cell membranes—the semi-permeable layers that allow cells to receive nutrients and eliminate wastes. Because every cell in the body has a cell membrane made mostly of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, consuming the proper amounts of omega-6s and -3s has the potential to affect every organ system in the body. A good dietary omega-6/-3 balance, which includes consumption of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), makes the cell membranes fluid, permeable, flexible, and healthy. Too much omega-6 (from chicken fat, corn oil, safflower oil, soy oil, canola oil), on the other hand, makes the cell membranes (including those in the brain) brittle, sluggish, and inefficient. As a result, the dog thinks and moves a little slower. Likewise, too much DHA in the diet can make the cell membranes prone to oxidation, which leads to premature aging.
One recent study demonstrated that the balance of fats consumed affects the expression of the genes, the process in which information from a gene is used to make proteins. The study reported that consumption of a proper balance of omega-6s and -3s reduces the expression of the genes that promote inflammation.20
This is why I focus so heavily on making sure that the ABC plans provide dogs the right amounts and balance of fats.
Puppies learn faster and remember more, older dogs retain the ability to stay mentally sharp, and all dogs are happier. As I was writing this section, I read a July 2008 report that analyzed more than 160 studies about food’s impact on the brain. One researcher, Fernando Gómez-Pinilla, a UCLA professor of neurosurgery and physiological science, concluded that “food is like a pharmaceutical compound that affects the brain,” and that DHA, was especially important for improving learning and memory and helping to fight mental disorders. He also stated that getting the omega-3s from food, rather from capsules, is preferable.21
Following the ABC plans will improve the functioning of your dog’s brain by improving the balance of the fats and providing a complete range of nutrients known to be beneficial for brain health. Improving the balance of fats is most important because the brain is 60% fat, 25% of which is DHA, a long-chain omega-3 fatty acid. Thus, DHA is the nutrient with the most evidence for enhancing intelligence and improving behavior.
A proper balance of fats is especially important for puppies and dogs undergoing training. Studies throughout the world show that for humans—and even rats and mice—an excess of omega-6 shortens attention span and undermines self-control. I believe the same thing happens with all mammals—an excess of omega-6 and insufficient amounts of DHA reduces their ability to learn and remember. DHA is essential for a young mammal’s brain development; without sufficient dietary DHA, young mammals do not learn as quickly as those who have sufficient DHA in the diet.
DHA is a major building block of the brain and a critical element in the development of vision and the central nervous system. It is one of the primary fats in the eyes, nerves, sperm, and most rapidly moving parts of animals. The dog’s ancestral sources of DHA were parts of prey animals and (if living near fishing villages) fish, fish heads and guts, and aquatic plants (algae, plankton, seaweed). The ABC plans add DHA with sardines and other seafood.
DHA is almost as important for adult dogs in order to keep the brain functioning properly. The adage “old dogs can’t learn new tricks” can be true if the dog doesn’t consume DHA. Dietary DHA is critical for a dog’s brain to have the capacity to grow new tissue and neuron-to-neuron connections, or, in other words, learn new things. Many studies with older dogs show that, with sufficient amounts of DHA and antioxidants to protect them, older dogs are more alert, remember more, and are more capable. In other words, proper DHA consumption helps prevent cognitive dysfunction or “doggie Alzheimer’s.”22
For raw feeders, the ABC recipes ensure that dogs do not consume too much fat—studies with mice suggest that high-fat diets (in which more than 60% of the calories are from fat) can lead to brain deterioration and liver cancer.23, 24 Fat provides more than 60% of the calories in many raw diets.
In addition to balancing the fats and adding DHA, the ABC plans provide a complete range of nutrients that are reported to help improve brain functions. Phosphatidylcholine, from egg yolks, has been reported to be important for memory, intelligence, and mood. Phosphatidylserine (PS), from sardines, is essential for the normal functioning of the brain’s cell membranes, and is involved in memory function. PS supplements have been reported to improve memory function in older people and rats; therefore I expect PS will help dogs as well. Recent research shows that vitamin B12, alpha lipoic acid, and carnitine, which is added by including fresh beef hearts and broccoli stalks in the diet, can help old dogs stay alert as they age.25
The ABC plans also promote brain health by adding fresh vegetables and fruits. There is a great depth of science showing that the anti-oxidants in dark berries help dogs remember what they learn better. Lycopene, from cooked tomatoes, watermelon, and other red foods, help keep the brain sharp. Zeaxanthin and lutein, from raw vegetables, enhance brain function. Luteolin, from celery and green peppers, can reduce brain inflammation. Some flavonoids from raw fruits have been reported to have beneficial effects on the brain even in very small amounts.
Better eye health
Dogs see better and have fewer eye problems as they age. Can following the ABC plans help prevent, or at least delay the onset, of eye problems in older dogs? If fed at a young enough age, yes. I believe that most cases of progressive retinal atrophy and cataracts prevalent in many breeds can be prevented. The data I’ve seen suggest that if a bitch is fed a balanced fat diet with ample antioxidant protection, the puppies are much less likely to develop eye problems. Great nutrition starts in the womb. For adult dogs, improving the ABCs will probably delay the onset of geriatric eye problems.
In order to maintain good eye health, it is crucial to balance the fats in the diet and provide a source of defended-from-oxidation DHA, the primary fat in the dog’s retina. Even if supplemented with DHA, an unbalanced fat diet (for example, high in omega-6s or saturated fats) may promote retinal degeneration, diminishing the dog’s ability to see. Lack of DHA in the diet or consumption of oxidized DHA can also be contributing factors to eye problems. The DHA in the ABC plans is from sardines, an excellent source of DHA.
The ABC plans also provide important antioxidants and other nutrients known to protect the eyes. These include lutein from egg yolks (the most usable form of lutein), zeaxanthin, lycopene, vitamins D and E, zinc, and taurine. Multiple studies have found that these nutrients may delay progression of age-related eye problems. The sardines and oysters in the ABC plans provide natural sources of zinc. Taurine, from fresh beef hearts, is also an important eye nutrient for dogs.
A stronger heart has many benefits, especially better athletic performance. The ABC plans help build strong hearts by improving the fats and adding nutrients known to benefit the heart. A strong, efficient heart is a key to excellent athletic performances, whether for short bursts like flyball and agility work or for the all day needs of hunting dogs. Balancing the fats and including non-oxidized DHA, as we know from studies with humans, rats, and dogs, are extremely important for proper heart functions. A dietary source of taurine is beneficial for some dogs for proper heart functioning. Some athletes take carnitine supplements to improve their performances; some premium dog foods are now touting “with carnitine” to entice buyers. Other nutrients with known benefits for the heart (provided by the ABC plans) include: alpha lipoic acid, luteolin, vitamin E and ribose, co-enzyme Q10 (CQ-10), and polyphenols.
Ribose. Research has shown that ribose is effective in helping the heart function efficiently, and is important for active, working dogs. Ribose is found in fairly high levels in raw red meat, but the cooking process binds the ribose, making it less available. High temperature and pressure extrusion cooking, the way most dry foods are produced, may make most, if not all, the ribose unavailable to the dog.
Coenzyme Q-10. CQ-10 is essential for cellular energy production, and acts as an antioxidant that protects the fatty acids in cell membranes from oxidation. CQ-10 is found naturally in the hearts of ruminants (beef, bison, deer, sheep, elk), which we will be including in the ABC plans. An ABC day for a 25-pound dog (Chapter 4) adds about 11 milligrams (mg) CQ-10.
Polyphenols. These compounds are found in fruits, especially the skins, and in vegetables. They have antioxidant characteristics, which have been shown to help reduce the risk of heart disease.
Keep extra weight off
Dogs stay lean and strong—and lean dogs live longer. Many published studies, led by Purina’s long-term research, show that high protein diets (i.e., diets with protein amounts similar to the ancestral diet), help dogs lose weight without losing muscle mass. When we lose weight, we want to lose fat, not muscle mass. The same is true for our dogs. Table 2.1, based upon published Purina research (www.purinavets.com), compares the amount of muscle and fat lost on three different protein level diets.26 On a low protein diet (20% protein on a dry matter basis—the amount of food left after all the water is removed), one-third of the weight the dogs lost was muscle; on a high protein diet only one-seventh of the weight loss was muscle and 85% of the weight loss was fat. The muscles in the body are made up of protein. The bottom line is that to maintain muscles, the body needs protein.
Table 2.1 Composition and percentage of weight loss at various protein level diets, dry matter basis
Other studies show that high protein diets and diets containing omega-3 fatty acids help improve the dog’s feeling of fullness, so the dog is less of a food pest when dieting, and it’s easier to keep her lean. And keeping a dog lean is important—lean dogs live longer. A 14-year life span study by Purina showed that dogs kept lean live longer and have substantially fewer health problems than those who are overweight. The lean dogs lived up to two years longer, developed degenerative bone problems later in life, had stronger immune systems, and had lower blood pressure than heavier dogs.
Following the ABC plans will help dogs stay lean and strong by increasing the protein content of their diets, while providing important nutrients reported to help them stay lean and strong.
Less chance of common health problems
An ABC oriented diet will reduce common canine concerns such as skin allergies, arthritis, and other inflammatory problems. One of the most remarkable studies I read during the research for this book came from Sweden. The study concluded that feeding any homemade or non-commercial foods to a bitch during lactation protected her offspring from subsequently developing skin allergies compared to commerical foods.27 The odds of the puppies developing skin allergies were twice as high among the offspring from bitches that ate only commercial foods. Hopefully other researchers will replicate the results of this study, and then widely disseminate the message “feed table scraps.” But I doubt many dog food companies would want to fund studies showing the health benefits of table scraps!
The best proven dietary approach to reducing inflammatory problems is, once again, to return to our ABCs by feeding the proper amount and balance of fats, including non-oxidized EPA and DHA, and a complete range of antioxidants (often from table scraps) to defend the fats in the dog’s body, as discussed in Chapters 5 and 8. Hundreds of peer-reviewed studies published worldwide in human and veterinary nutrition journals (many of which are summarized in the books listed in the recommended reading list), show that the proper balance of fats, primarily the balance of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, can help prevent or reduce in severity all types of inflammatory problems, including arthritis. Consumption of EPA has been shown to be effective in reducing inflammation; hence it is often called the anti-inflammatory fat. EPA is found in all cell membranes and is needed to make critical inflammation-moderating messenger chemicals called eicosanoids. If the dog’s cell membranes contain adequate levels of EPA, the body will respond to minor infection or injury with an appropriately mild, fast-resolving inflammatory reaction, rather than the excessive, persistent inflammation produced by the eicosanoids made from low omega-3 content diets. One of the best sources of EPA is snake oil. Snake oils, despite their reputation in the United States as bogus, are often effective in reducing joint pain. Fortunately, sardines and other fish are also good sources of EPA.
Other studies, focusing on just DHA, show that long-term consumption of it helps reduce the pain and inflammation on joints. Balancing fats and adding DHA does not act like a drug that immediately reduces pain. Please don’t expect to feed an ABC day and see your creaky old dog be agile again in a few days. As the fats in the cell membranes are turned over (a process that can take weeks to years depending upon the type of cell), the DHA replaces some of the omega-6s in the cell membranes, making the membranes more flexible and improving joint movement. While most dogs will show some improvement in a few months, be aware that older dogs may not. DHA consumption will slow down the progression of degenerative diseases, but not necessarily reverse it.
Compared with the amount of fat in a dog’s ancestral diet, most dogs are fed dry foods that lack fat (Table 2.1). That’s why several formal studies and much anecdotal evidence suggest that adding any fat or oil to a dog’s diet often helps the skin and coat of many dry dog food fed dogs. Raw diets are high-fat diets—perhaps that’s one of the reasons why most raw-fed dogs appear to have healthy coats. The ABC plans make the amount of fat in a dog’s diet more like the ancestral diet, which will result not only in a healthy coat, but in overall improved health.
Lower cancer risks
Welcome words for any dog owner—your dog is less likely to get cancer if fed the proper diet. In my first book, See Spot Live Longer, I discussed some of the many studies showing that the consumption of vegetables and fruits exerts protective effects against cancer, the number one disease killer of dogs. Since then, more detailed and long-term studies continue to show that consumption of vegetables (especially vegetables like broccoli) protect humans, mice, and dogs from cancer.28 All the ABC plans include fresh vegetables.
Consumption of green vegetables is especially important for dogs who eat dry foods. Dry foods are susceptible to aflatoxin (a highly toxic substance produced by some molds) contamination. Even though small amounts of aflatoxin are considered acceptable in the grains used for dog foods, with lesser amounts allowed in human foods, green vegetables can help offset its negative effects. Green vegetables contain chlorophyll and have been shown to help delay the onset of symptoms of liver cancer caused from consumption of aflatoxin-contaminated grains.
Of course, improving the fat balance and consuming non-oxidized DHA helps protect against cancer since the fats consumed affect every cell in the dog’s body. Following the ABC plans and my advice on storing foods in Chapter 7 will also help ensure that a dog consumes fewer rancid fats, the consumption of which, as we’ve seen, may contribute to cancer.