Dogs with cancer, especially widespread cancer, have a lot of different health issues that need special attention. The cancer has a way of overtaking and affecting many different body systems. In order for us to beat the odds in any consistent way, we need to tend to each of these different cancer effects. As readers of this blog know, dogs fighting cancer often need more than surgery, chemo and radiation.
One of the biggest oversights in modern medicine is the role of the immune system in cancer. Sure, it is researched, but there is almost no practical use of this knowledge in actual clinical medicine. If a veterinary client were to bring up the fact that systemic cancer almost always creates immune suppression to an average vet, there would be little actionable response. Us doctors sometimes act like there is no issue if we are not well schooled in it, unfortunately.
So to reiterate a given fact: immune suppression goes along with cancer. This has been discussed at length in the Guide and elsewhere in this blog. Some common strategies have been to use beta glucans, AHCC, biobran, astragalus, Berez drops, and other items discussed. However, I have not gone into good immune system fuel. For in order for the engine to run, there must be fuel, regardless of whether we go from 4 to 8 cylinders.
White blood cells require an amino acid called L-glutamine to operate on 8 cylinders. Of course, we want turbocharged white blood cells to not only recognize and destroy cancer cells (ideally), but also protect the body from microbes. This becomes even more important when the body is weakened due to stress, surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.
Some amino acids are essential (without them the body develops nutritional deficiencies), but L-glutamine is now being viewed as “conditionally essential” during times of stress or treatments that create inflammation the body such as surgery or infection…and cancer of course should be on that list. This means that the body needs it but only when there are certain conditions occurring.
L-glutamine has a whole slew of really beneficial effects for cancer patients. It boosts the gobbling of microbes by white blood cells. It causes more of the cells that make antibodies to be made. It activates LAK (lymphocyte activated killer) cells, which target abnormal body cells. Glutamine helps block cancer cachexia, which is the loss of healthy muscle and body condition in ongoing cancer cases. For more information, click here.
As if that were not enough, glutamine helps the lining of the intestine in patients with diarrhea…and also helps with toxicity seen with chemo drugs like doxorubicin and cisplatin. Glutamine also helps increase healthy, programmed cell suicide of cancer cells, limits tumor growth (there used to be a question about whether glutamine accelerated tumor growth as cancer cells can consume it too…now debunked), and may be beneficial in bone marrow transplant patients. Cancer patients are frequently deficient in glutamine. Another good abstract is can be found here.
There has been a point raised that glutamine may act as an “excitotoxin”, and if so may injure nerve cells in the brain if used in high doses for long periods of time, especially for patients with pre-existing brain issues. This point is debated in human literature and is not in canine research at all. However, just to be safe, we use modest doses in Apocaps. If you have a dog with brain or seizure disorders, discuss this topic with your vet specifically. You vet will likely say there is little to be concerned about, but it is always prudent to have your vet involved.
So fire up those 8 cylinders and get that puppy rolling!
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.