What are Nutraceuticals?
The word nutraceutical was first coined by Dr. Stephen DeFelice from the Foundation for Innovation in Medicine in 1989. As the name implies, a nutraceutical is a combination of the words nutrition and pharmaceutical to describe a substance that is isolated or purified from food, or parts of a food, that provides medical or health benefits including the prevention and treatment of disease. Examples of nutraceuticals include vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, oils, amino acids, and some herbs.
More commonly however, the term is primarily reserved for products such as MSM, chondroitin, and glucosamine, likely because their use has become so wide-spread. In fact, these products have been so effectively marketed for arthritis that they are now being used for every ache, pain and joint discomfort imaginable, including even symptoms that are completely unrelated. There are thousands of different arthritis products available containing these ingredients, for both people and animals. It is even routinely added to the pet food! Such is the power of marketing.
But miracle products don’t normally exist - even though we are often sold on the promise that they do – and can frequently cause other health problems. Let’s take a closer look and learn how these products are affecting our dogs.
MSM (methylsulfonylmethane) is a form of sulphur which can be valuable for arthritis, joint pain and swellings. It can be particularly beneficial for acute muscle injuries and some forms of arthritis as it strengthens connective tissue and also helps to increase the permeability of the joint and muscle membranes allowing the release of excess fluid. This can result in a relief of swelling as well as drainage of inflammatory toxins. However, many dogs are sensitive or intolerant to sulphur compounds which can then result in fatigue, shortness of breath, congestion, immune issues, or skin problems. In addition, the long-term use of MSM depletes calcium levels which then exacerbates joint problems. All of these symptoms can occur shortly after taking the supplement or appear more slowly over time. No matter how your dog responds, dose on the side of caution and limit the use of MSM to thirty days unless obvious benefit is demonstrated beyond that time.
Glucosamine with or without chondroitin is used by many dog parents as treatment for inflammation and osteoarthritis because it is sometimes capable of regenerating bone cartilage. However, symptoms similar to the MSM reactions are also common with the use of glucosamine sulphate (GLS) or chondroitin sulphate since the sulphate molecule on GLS can create the same adverse immune reactions. Because of these sulphur sensitivities glucosamine is also available in non-sulphur forms such as GLHCL.
But there are other problems with glucosamine. Glucosamine is a unique type of sugar concentrated into a capsule. It therefore inhibits the pancreas from producing insulin which raises blood sugar levels and encourages weight gain. And, it over-works the liver because the liver must metabolize all sugars. Glucosamine is therefore contraindicated in several health conditions and should not be used for dogs who easily gain weight, are obese, Insulin Resistant or diabetic, have metabolic problems, or who have Cushing’s syndrome.
In addition, glucosamine has been implicated in causing an increase of blood pressure and changes in heart rhythm in sensitive people and animals. Some of these issues are easy to detect with people but your dog cannot tell you that they feel shaky inside or that their heart doesn’t feel right.
What is Your Dog Telling You?
Considering that thousands of dogs everywhere are being fed products containing MSM or glucosamine products over long periods of time we know that there are many, many of them out there who want to tell us that their fatigue, shortness of breath, immunity issues, heart symptoms and metabolic problems are due to their supplement program. But unfortunately, there is little awareness out there of the problems that are occurring with these Generally Regarded As Safe (GRAS) supplements. Rather, these symptoms are often blamed on other issues and our dogs may even be wrongly medicated.
Too Good To Be True
Despite the very effective mass marketing of nutraceuticals for dogs they should not be considered a panacea for every ailment. There are no panaceas; if it’s too good to be true it probably is. Always seek the underlying cause of all ailments be it diet, lack of exercise, or nutritional deficiencies. Diet is a major cause of joint pain! Especially meat believe it or not.
Healthy Natural Alternatives
Alongside diet, there are many other natural solutions for dog's joint pain and inflammation. Sore, stiff joints and arthritic issues are frequently related to canine calcium deficiency which is a very common mineral deficiency in dogs. For a safe and effective program start with Bone-Up (Calcium citrate and Vitamin B6) and Joint-Clear (birch bark, black cohosh, burdock root, yucca root). Eliminate all red meats (beef, bison, pork, lamb, venison) which commonly contribute to pain, stiffness and inflammation. Rarely will supplements – including nutraceuticals – solve pain problems without an improved diet. It is also recommended to have a hair tissue mineral analysis performed to determine exactly which deficiencies or excesses your pet have.