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Neutralising the excess free radicals

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01 April 2014, at 1:00am

Ian Williams in this fourth in a series of columns from Royal Canin focusing on the latest knowledge behind nutrients that can be of benefit to cats and dogs, looks at antioxidants...

AS an animal goes about its day-to- day functions, free radicals (or “reactive oxygen species”) are produced. These are the by-products created within all the cells in the body during metabolism.

The problem with having high levels of free radicals in the body is that they are highly reactive. The reactions are a normal part of life and the body’s metabolism, but the effects can accumulate as animals grow older.

Antioxidants are health nutrients which can help to neutralise and “mop up” excess free radicals, as they are able to take part in a reaction with the free radicals, meaning that the free radicals are then less able to react with cells in the body.

The body is armed with enzyme mechanisms (superoxide dismutase, glutathione peroxidase and catalase) and endogenous and dietary antioxidant substances; however, these are in a limited supply and depend on a regular supply of particular nutrients from the diet.

Antioxidants (including vitamins and certain enzymes) are found in various fruits (oranges, lemons, tomatoes and grapes), cereals and green tea leaves. The most commonly used antioxidants are vitamin C, vitamin E, carotenoid pigments (including lutein), taurine and polyphenols.

Royal Canin’s diets for cats and dogs contain antioxidants including vitamins C and E, lutein and taurine. Vitamin C helps to support the body’s natural defences and tissue development. Vitamin E is sourced from plants and vegetables, and works to help support cells. 

Lutein, which is naturally sourced from marigold extract, helps to maintain healthy vision and also supports the body’s natural defences. Finally, taurine is essential to help maintain healthy muscles, the nervous system and eyes.

The use of these four antioxidants together allows them to work synergistically, meaning that when combined they work together to neutralise excess free radicals more successfully than if they were used separately.

Dietary antioxidants like these contribute to the body’s natural defences, helping to maintain cell function with age and helping to support health during periods of oxidative stress. There are lots of situations which can lead to oxidative stress including high levels of exercise, illness and stress.

In young animals, diets are often formulated to support their natural defences as they develop during the delicate growth period. When they are first born, puppies and kittens rely entirely on the protection they receive from their mother’s milk but, over time, this protection starts to fade. This means they are left vulnerable, particularly between 4-12 weeks, until their own defences start to form.

So it is important that puppies and kittens are supported during this period through the addition of antioxidants. Feeding a diet supplemented with antioxidants to an older pet can also help to support their natural defences and maintain vitality.

In summary, the use of dietary antioxidants can be of benefit to both young and old pets and they are now commonly incorporated into both lifestage and clinical diets. n For further reading please visit: vetportal.royalcanin.co.uk.