The use of “antioxidants” is a charged topic in cancer care these days. The holistic set tends to be “pro”, while the western vets and oncologists tend to be “anti”. Let’s take a look from my favorite viewpoint…Full Spectrum care ( where we try to avoid biases that exclude useful things but gear evaluations towards real-life effects).
Here’s the problem: the use of the term “antioxidants” is totally muddying up our thought process in trying to give sound advice! We need to totally eliminate this word from our discussion!! Yes, sounds a little weird. So let me explain what I mean.
First, let’s widen back. What is an “antioxidant” anyway? Usually, people talk about the ability of a substance to help decrease the free radical activity in the body. A free radical is what you get when you are consuming oxygen in body processes over time.
Free radicals tend to be harmful to living cells. There are many different types of free radicals but many contain “used up” oxygen that was used for normal living processes or are the result of the reactions that use oxygen. So that’s the oxygen connection to “antioxidant”.
The problem is this: most of the substances or vitamins that are classified as “antioxidants” have never even been shown to do that in a real-life body! (Check it out here) And to top that off, many of the so-called antioxidants have “pro-oxidant” activity. This means they are capable of increasing free radical effects.
Don’t go away mad, because there is more: in many strategies in combating cancer, we want free radical generation. Yes, we want free radical production, that was not a typo. For example, we want free radicals to increase in cancer cells, so they die. And we want to leave body cells unharmed in the process. This is the theoretical basis supporting the use of radiation and some chemo treatments.
Some of the items in past or future postings on dogcancerblog.com attack cancer cells in this way while leaving normal body cells unscathed.
Now I hope you are starting to see what I am talking about. It gets thicker though, so hang on, please.
There is major confusion surrounding cancer prevention, compared to cancer treatment. Free radicals are one of the things that can damage DNA and contribute to cancer development. That is one process, and the use of substances that block this process can help decrease the odds of getting cancer. However, the use of the same substance at the same dose may not decrease cancer after it has developed (this is very frequently the case)!
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So there are two entirely different instances…before a dog gets cancer, and once it has developed the disease. Prevention and treatment….totally different!
People tend to use the word “antioxidants” as if they are the all same. So “antioxidants”, all grouped together, are “good” or “bad” in veterinary cancer care. As if each substance, vitamin or therapy that has an antioxidant effect is the same as other, with the same effects. Folks, this just wrong.
Each of the vitamins, enzymes, drugs, therapies and so on that are capable of quenching free radicals, or contributing to decreases in free radicals, is completely different. They have different effects! Grouping them into a single functional category is a mistake. The premise is flawed.
Talking about “antioxidants” and cancer care is like talking about “people” and the upcoming election. Yes, we all have, oh, say, a beating heart. True. That is a similarity. But can we make a statement that we will all operate the same at election time? Of course not. Just as you cannot group people with beating hearts in a single functional category just because they have a similarity, you cannot group antioxidants in a single functional category.
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Each is unique.
And to impress the point further, the use of a given substance that has an antioxidant effect may have good or bad interactions with other treatments. The antioxidant effect may help or hinder in the context of what else is going on.
And what about all the other effects of the given substance? It will do a lot more than affect free radicals!
So, I believe we have been white-washing this entire area, perhaps out of a lack of information, or out of fear that we might worsen our already junky success rates with conventional care of malignant cancer. Or maybe we have just been a little lazy, hard to say.
I will address specifics in this topic in future blogs, but I wanted to get this idea out there first. This is our launching pad.
Best to all,
Dr. Demian Dressler is internationally recognized as “the dog cancer vet” because of his innovations in the field of dog cancer management, and the popularity of his blog here at Dog Cancer Blog. The owner of South Shore Veterinary Care, a full-service veterinary hospital in Maui, Hawaii, Dr. Dressler studied Animal Physiology and received a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of California at Davis before earning his Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine from Cornell University. After practicing at Killewald Animal Hospital in Amherst, New York, he returned to his home state, Hawaii, to practice at the East Honolulu Pet Hospital before heading home to Maui to open his own hospital. Dr. Dressler consults both dog lovers and veterinary professionals, and is sought after as a speaker on topics ranging from the links between lifestyle choices and disease, nutrition and cancer, and animal ethics. His television appearances include “Ask the Vet” segments on local news programs. He is the author of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide: Full Spectrum Treatments to Optimize Your Dog’s Life Quality and Longevity. He is a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Hawaii Veterinary Medical Association, the American Association of Avian Veterinarians, the National Animal Supplement Council and CORE (Comparative Orthopedic Research Evaluation). He is also an advisory board member for Pacific Primate Sanctuary.