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Natural Awakenings Charlotte

Whole Food Supplements - Benefits for Pets

Man with 2 Dogs

by Dr. Matthew J. Heller

Pets and people today share a common bond: We rarely consume a completely balanced diet that meets our nutritional needs and promotes optimal health. Everyone knows that vitamins are fundamental to health and wellness, and concerned pet owners are beginning to realize that even the best food sources may not be enough. Pets’ diets may need additional fortification with nutritional supplementation.

Why Supplements May Be Necessary

First, it’s vital to understand that the majority of the U.S. pet population consumes highly processed diets. In order to form those attractive kibble bites, most pet food is cooked at extreme temperatures, which also destroy most naturally occurring vitamins and minerals in the raw materials. Recognizing this, many commercial pet food manufacturers fortify their products with synthetic vitamins in an attempt to compensate.

We must ask: Does the addition of these synthetic vitamins benefit an animal’s health, as marketing materials suggest? Could synthetic vitamins potentially be harmful? Is there a better way to provide our furry companions the valuable nutrition they may not receive from their primary diet? I encourage responsible pet owners to take a closer look at available options for supplementation, and to recognize the differences between the benefits of whole food vitamins and their synthetic counterparts.

Benefits of a Whole Foods Approach

In a food source, a vitamin complex consists of the main vitamin nutrient and an underlying matrix of supporting enzymes, coenzymes, minerals and antioxidants. For example, a natural food source of vitamin E, such as wheat germ oil, sunflower seeds or leafy vegetables, has at least five other key nutrients present, as well as hundreds of related nutrients.

In manufacturing whole food vitamin supplements, the raw materials (plants, vegetables, fruits and/or animal products) are gently processed to preserve the intrinsic vitamin and mineral complexes. In consuming whole food vitamins made from these natural concentrated food sources, an animal receives the same benefit as though he or she had consumed the food itself.

Synthetic vitamins, by contrast, typically contain only a single, isolated component of the main vitamin nutrient (or, in some cases, a network of related chemicals), but do not duplicate the underlying matrix in its intact organic form. For example, dl-alpha tocopherol acetate, listed as an ingredient in a given synthetic supplement, is supposedly standing in for the entire natural vitamin E complex. This is not what nature intended.

Unfortunately, the majority of vitamins found in nutritional supplements today are synthetic. These synthetic vitamins are less expensive to manufacture, but are inherently inferior to nutrition found in a natural organic complex. Over the past half century, scientific studies from the University of California and many other academic institutions have demonstrated both the potential risks of consuming synthetic vitamins and the known benefits of supplementing both animal and human diets with whole food vitamin complexes derived from concentrated food sources.

Proponents of whole food vitamin supplements identify various concerns with synthetic vitamins:

Potential toxicity of synthetic vitamins. For example, researchers at Boston University documented that consumption of synthetic vitamin A may increase birth defects, while overconsumption of whole food sources of vitamin A did not have any toxic effect.

Creation of vitamin deficiencies of the very synthetic vitamin being supplemented. If the body is accustomed to absorbing a vitamin complex in its natural state, the concern is that the body must supply portions of the vitamin complex not present in the synthetic vitamin in order to attempt to absorb it. According to research results noted in the Veterinary Clinical Reference Guide, forced supplementation of the missing portions of the vitamin complex can result in a deficiency.

Synthetic vitamins absorb much more slowly.  For example, the National Research Council of Canada reports that vitamin E in a natural form is absorbed five times more quickly than its synthetic counterpart.

Increased histamine levels may indicate an apparent allergic reaction. Synthetic vitamins may contain additional ingredients used to bind together the components; certain people may be sensitive to or intolerant of such ingredients, including MSG, food colorings and chemical preservatives.

Profound differences exist between synthetic vitamins and whole food vitamins. The bottom line is that whole food vitamin supplements are able to supply an animal’s body with nutrients lacking in their diet. Synthetic vitamins, on the other hand, offer only isolated components of vitamins, and many researchers argue that they pose potential risks. Providing proper nutrition for our pets in the form of whole food vitamins is a powerful tool in combating and preventing illness and promoting overall wellness.

Dr. Matthew J. Heller is a holistic veterinarian in Middletown, OH. Contact him at 513-424-1626 or visit




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