Despite the fact that most phytonutrients are officially considered “non-essential” (most aren’t included in AAFCO nutrient profiles or other references many vets are familiar with), research is suggesting that these compounds may be essential for deep-seated good health, well-being, immunity, and longevity.
Some of the health benefits of phytonutrients in colourful foods include enhanced immune system activity, protection against cancer, support of eye and heart health, improved communication between cells and repair of DNA damage. Antioxidants also help slow down the signs of aging by cleaning up the by-products of oxidation within the body’s cells. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) notes that consuming a phytonutrient-rich diet seems to be an “effective strategy” for reducing cancer and heart disease risks.
While the majority of the research is being done on humans, it’s likely most of the benefits being demonstrated also apply to animals, including domesticated pets, and CannPal is completing much of this translational work to develop innovative therapeutics for pets by leveraging this powerful compounds.
Some of the major classes of phytonutrients include:
Role in the body
Carotenoids, including lycopene, lutein, and zeaxanthin, are responsible for a number of positive benefits in dogs, including lowering inflammation and acting as powerful antioxidants. In particular, carotenoid-rich foods can protect the healthy cells in the eye and prevent the growth of cancerous cells. Though it’s still being researched, carotenoid anti-inflammatory properties have been associated with improving cardiovascular health. Reducing inflammation helps to protect against heart disease and prevents arterial walls from being blocked.
Carotenoids are found in yellow, orange and red colored fruits and vegetables like squash, carrots, papaya, cantaloupe along with kale, spinach, tomatoes, carrots, mangoes and many others.
In recent years, scientists have turned to various flavonoids to explain some of the health benefits associated with diets rich in fruits and vegetables, according to the Linus Pauling Institute. Like other phytonutrients, flavonoids are powerful antioxidants with anti-inflammatory and immune system benefits. Powerful flavonoids such as Quercetin, have been used in dog food and treats for its numerous health benefits.
Role in the body
Diets rich in flavonoid-containing foods are sometimes associated with cancer, neurodegenerative and cardiovascular disease prevention. Studies in dogs have also raised the possibility of exploring flavonoids for anticancer therapies in dogs, in view of their lower toxicity when compared to other anticancer drugs.
Onions, tea, strawberries, kale, grapes, Brussels sprouts, citrus fruits, parsley, spices, plums, apples, pears, peaches, red and green vegetables
However terpenes are by no means unique to cannabis; they can be found in many other herbs, fruits, and plants as well and are the compounds that give essential oils most of their therapeutic benefits.
Role in the body
Similarly to cannabinoids, the major active compounds found in cannabis, terpenes bind to receptors in the brain and give rise to various beneficial effects. Terpenes have also been studied for their synergistic effects with cannabinoids, which may be able to influence the therapeutic function of medical cannabis. Earlier research demonstrated that the sesquiterpene caryophyllene (the oxide of which is the compound drug-sniffing dogs are trained to detect) acts as a selective CB₂-receptor agonist and has anti-inflammatory properties via this mechanism, essentially rendering it a “cannabinoid”.
Most commonly, through various mechanisms of action, terpenes have strong analgesic (pain relieving) anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antifungal and antiviral effects.
Terpenes are commonly found in plants, giving many of them their scents, however a number of terpenes can also be found in fruit such as lemons, oranges, grapefruit, apples and tangerine, and spices such as turmeric and pepper.
– Alpha Pinene
– Phenolic Acids: Include compounds found in coffee, tea, grapes, red wine, berries, kiwi fruits, plums, apples, and cherries. They are found in other fruits and veggies as well, and even grain and corn;
– Stilbenes: A small group of plant chemicals and resveratrol is probably the best-known and the most studied of them. Resveratrol is found in red wine, blueberries, cranberries, and peanuts. Consuming these foods has been linked to better heart health.
– Lignans: These compounds are found in legumes, cereals, grains, fruits, algae, and some vegetables. Eating a diet rich in lignans may be good for cardiovascular health, but research studies are generally of low quality. It’s not easy to eat a lot of lignans unless you take them as dietary supplements.
Role in the body
Many of the health benefits associated with polyphenols may be related to their role as antioxidants. Antioxidants are known for their ability to combat cell damage.
Polyphenols may also impact genes and gene expression. A person’s specific genes can also affect how their body responds to certain types of polyphenols. Polyphenols may even influence gut bacteria. A study in animals also looked at the effect of green tea polyphenols on measures of inflammation after exercise.
Rats that received the tea polyphenols were able to keep up their activity for longer than the rats that did not receive the polyphenols. They also had significantly lower levels of chemicals that signaled inflammation and muscle damage in their blood.
Endocannabinoids are the special molecules naturally produced in the human and animals body that are closely related to proper functioning of the immune system and nervous system and that are mimicked by the cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant.
Cannabinoids contained in cannabis, referred to as phytocannabinoids, simply imitate endocannabinoids. Cannabinoids fit perfectly into specialized receptors found throughout the nervous and immune systems, serving to enhance, or improve upon, the body’s own ability to maintain homeostasis (balance) and health.
Follow the link to learn more about cannabinoids in our resource centre.
How can my dogs get enough Phytonutrients?
Foods containing phytochemicals are already part of the human daily diet. In fact, most foods contain phytochemicals except for some refined foods such as sugar or alcohol. Some foods, such as whole grains, vegetables, beans, fruits and herbs, contain many phytochemicals. The easiest way to get more phytochemicals is to eat more fruit (blueberries, cranberries, cherries, apples) and vegetables (cauliflower, cabbage, carrots, broccoli).
Many fruits and vegetables are suitable for dogs to eat, and contain some of the phytonutrients that help provide protection against many ailments and diseases to which domestic canines are prone. However in many cases, dogs’ digestive systems can’t break down the cellulose contained in the cell walls of vegetables very well, and as such, a responsible pet owner should seek to provide supplements to help promote optimal health.
There are also a large number of Phytonutrients and Phytochemicals that can be toxic to animals in large enough doses and even compounds that should be avoided completely. As such, it’s important to also seek veterinary advice before feeding your animal a new diet or purchasing any plant based product rich in phytonutrients.