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How Antioxidants Help Pets

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We have long known the importance of antioxidants in food preservation and human health. But they also play a critical role in pet health, helping to protect animals from cell damage, inflammation, and chronic illness.

To better understand antioxidants’ contributions to pet health, we spoke with Dr. Mike Cecava, Vice President of Research & Development at The F.L. Emmert Company and his colleague Dr. Tom Asquith, Director of Research & Development. They explained why antioxidants are so crucial, the need for multiple antioxidant sources in the diet, and recent findings about the antioxidant activity in Emmert’s concentrated brewers yeast ingredients.

Antioxidants and their role in human health first came to public attention in the 1990s. What have we learned about how they support the body?

Dr. Cecava: Antioxidants are a key weapon against molecules called free radicals. These molecules can be in our food and the environment, and our bodies also make some. Free radicals react easily with other molecules. These interactions can be beneficial when the free radicals target bacteria, viruses, or other pathogens that enter our bodies. But when the ratio of free radicals to antioxidants gets off balance, free radicals can damage cells in a process called oxidative stress. Being exposed to chronic oxidative stress can increase the risk of chronic diseases such as inflammation, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer.

Antioxidants stabilize free radicals so they are less reactive. This prevents cell damage.

A balanced diet provides antioxidants, as well as compounds that the body uses to build its own antioxidants. We know that certain vitamins — namely vitamin C and vitamin E — support antioxidant activity. But so do compounds like polyphenols and certain peptides. We need antioxidants from multiple sources, because they each target different types of free radicals and oxidative processes.

Do antioxidants work the same way in our pets?

Dr. Asquith: It's the same basic biology in people and in pets. Pets need an abundance of antioxidants — and the right types of antioxidants – to protect from free radicals. When a pet is sick or under stress, the body produces more free radicals and is more vulnerable to free radicals from the environment. So those are especially crucial times to make sure the animal is getting a full complement of antioxidants.

Dr. Cecava: If pets aren’t eating foods with adequate antioxidants, there’s a good chance that free radicals can cause health problems like joint and arthritis problems, allergies, itchy skin and rough coat, and unfortunately, cancer and shorter life.

Do pets need the same kind of variety in antioxidants that humans do?

Dr. Asquith: Yes. Scientists use “total antioxidant capacity” to describe how different types of antioxidants work together to provide complete protection for animals. If you have two animals with the same blood level of antioxidants, but one has more types of antioxidants, the one with more types will usually have a higher total antioxidant capacity.

What a scientist is looking to create is that balance of different types of antioxidants that can counteract the free radicals. It's not just vitamins and minerals — it's other compounds as well. That's where we've been looking into our own product mix. We’ve found that our concentrated brewers yeast products have compounds that are quite interesting for antioxidant potential.

What has the research shown so far about your brewers yeast products and their antioxidant activity?

Dr. Cecava: Emmert has initiated several research studies aimed at evaluating the antioxidant levels in concentrated brewers yeast. A study was commissioned with Dr. Elvira de Mejia, an expert in food antioxidant chemistry and food science at the University of Illinois. Dr. de Mejia evaluated the antioxidant potential of one of Emmert’s concentrated brewers yeast ingredients using seven different laboratory methods. Before being evaluated, the concentrated yeast was subjected to enzymatic digestion to mimic the normal digestive processes occurring in the gastrointestinal tract. The digested yeast showed a high capacity for antioxidant activity.

We commissioned a separate study of several Emmert concentrated yeast supplements with an independent analytical laboratory. The Emmert yeast supplements had similar antioxidant potential as dried blueberry, which is known to be a good source of antioxidants.

Dr. Asquith: We also know that oxidation can affect food itself. Emmert worked with an independent lab to assess the effectiveness of our yeasts to prolong shelf life in treats with high amounts of meat and fat. Preliminary results indicate that Emmert yeasts can help extend shelf life from 12 months to 18 months. That's based on the antioxidant potential of our products.

What are the benefits of finding additional sources of antioxidants beyond the ones we already know of?

Dr. Cecava: Many antioxidant sources can only be used in limited amounts due to palatability or other characteristics. We know that brewers yeast is palatable and adds characteristics to a formula that are positive for the dog and cat. Emmert has a unique situation where we can bring that added benefit of an antioxidant that's quite flavorful and the pet will find enjoyable to consume.

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