Innovative Animal Health Research Identifies Links Between Nutrition

“You are what you eat,” so the saying goes. And just as your diet affects your health, what your pets eat also influences their disease risk.

Morris Animal Foundation’s (MAF) founder, Dr. Mark Morris Sr., recognized the connection between health and nutrition in the early 1940s, long before diet and nutrition were everyday topics. In fact, he was one of the first veterinarians to use diet to control disease. His innovation led to nearly 100 Foundation-funded studies-so far-that have improved the dietary health and decreased disease risk for pets, horses and wildlife.

One of Dr. Morris’s first patients was Buddy, who was among the first guide dogs in the United States. Buddy suffered from kidney failure, and his owner, Morris Frank, then the national ambassador for the Seeing Eye, sought Dr. Morris’s advice. Dr. Morris created a special diet for Buddy that dramatically improved the dog’s health, and soon he and his wife, Louise, were canning the food in their kitchen. When they couldn’t keep up with escalating demand, they partnered with the Hill Packing Company to produce what later became the first Hill’s Prescription Diet.

Dr. Morris used the royalties from that diet to create MAF, and the first two studies MAF funded in 1950 looked at nutrition in cats and dogs. Since that time, hundreds of scientific animal research studies-funded by MAF and others-have proven what Dr. Morris suspected so long ago: nutrition and disease are inextricably linked.

“The role of health and nutrition has infiltrated the media-hardly a day goes by without a report on the latest research about how nutrition causes or prevents disease in people,” says Dr. Kathryn Michel, one of only 54 members of the American College of Veterinary Nutrition. “As people become more educated about the importance of a good diet for themselves, they transfer that knowledge to their animals.”

Dr. Michel notes that insufficient nutrients in a pet’s diet can cause serious health conditions, such as orthopedic and neurological issues. She adds that veterinarians see cardiomyopathy in cats that is related to deficiency of the amino acid taurine as well as in dogs that don’t get the right amounts of essential amino acids. MAF has funded a number of studies that have looked at the role of amino acids in maintaining good health.

On the flip side, too much food can harm. Sadly, an estimated 30 to 40 percent of pets are overweight, and 25 percent are considered obese, according to the American Animal Hospital Association. Those extra pounds cause a host of additional health issues.

Dr. Joe Bartges, professor of medicine and nutrition at the University of Tennessee and former chair of the Foundation’s Scientific Advisory Board, says obesity is directly or indirectly linked to respiratory problems, diabetes, osteoarthritis, ligament tears, hypertension, urinary stones, surgical and anesthetic risks, heat intolerance and even cancer.

Perhaps most important, extra weight shortens lives. Results of a 14-year study, published recently in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, showed that Labrador retrievers fed 25 percent less than their siblings lived about 15 percent longer, and the age at which they required medical treatment for osteoarthritis or another chronic condition was delayed by two to three years. This study showed, for the first time, that even a few extra pounds have detrimental health effects. The good news is that proper nutrition can combat disease.

A recent Purdue University study showed that Scottish terriers given vegetables, such as baby carrots, at least three times a week had a 70 percent lower chance of developing bladder cancer. An MAF-funded study earlier this decade showed that a high-protein diet could help cats with diabetes lose weight and reduce or eliminate their need for insulin. Other studies MAF has funded linked nutritional factors to diseases in many species or determined the optimal levels of certain nutrients.

For example, Dr. Bartges is currently using Foundation funding to evaluate whether a high-fiber diet supplemented with potassium citrate can prevent the development of a painful type of urinary stone whose frequency is on the rise. Another study at the University of Minnesota is looking at whether cats with increased concentrations of purine metabolites are more likely to develop urate stones. The information would help to develop more effective therapies.

“There is absolutely no question that health is directly affected by diet, but we still have a huge amount to learn,” Dr. Michel says.

That’s why MAF will keep funding research that gives veterinarians and pet owners the information they need to make good nutritional decisions for their pets-and helps wild animals lead longer, healthier lives.

Can Babies in the Womb Feel Emotion

Four years ago a young woman brought her baby to Susan Mwangi of AMREF’s Kenya Disaster and Bomb Unit. The mother was worried because her child seemed abnormally scared by loud noises. Susan, who trained as a nurse and midwife, reassured her that this was normal for babies and sent her on her way. Shortly afterwards another of Susan’s patients remarked that her baby cried and clung to her all the time. Susan reassured this mother too and thought nothing more of it. But when the third mother came to her with concerns about her baby’s nervous disposition, Susan began to wonder if there was more to this than coincidence.

There was one common circumstance linking the babies. Susan ran a program of follow up care for 1,402 Kenyans who had been wounded by terrorists in the 1998 Nairobi bomb blast at the U.S. Embassy. Over a four-year period the Disaster and Bomb Unit coordinated the physical and psychological recovery of these survivors through a rehabilitation program that began in July 1999. The anxious mothers who had come to see Susan were all part of this group. Significantly, they had all been pregnant at the time of the bombing.

Typically, physical rehabilitation involved reconstructive surgery, hearing aids for those deafened by the blast, and fitting prosthetic eyes and limbs. The smoke and flying particles of cement and glass had caused extensive eye damage: over 200 people were prescribed glasses for damaged eyesight. The victims suffered extensively from trauma as well. They were counseled for post-traumatic stress, which commonly manifested itself through stress-related symptoms such as peptic ulcers, hypertension, panic attacks and hormone imbalances.

“If we hadn’t been there for them, none of these people would have received good quality care. Two thirds of the victims were manual laborers or had semi-skilled jobs. They were in no position to pay for medical treatment. In assisting the survivors, the program eased the psychological pain of the entire nation,” said Susan.

“Our concern and care instilled a positive attitude amongst the survivors that speeded up their recovery. We held discussion groups where they learned how to cope with and better understand their disabilities. They began to understand why they experienced continual stress. Our culture is not open to counseling so it was an important breakthrough.”

While the mothers had been treated for their own injuries and trauma, no one had thought to consider the effect of the bomb blast on the fetuses in their wombs. Thirty-seven of the bomb blast victims were pregnant at the time of the attack. -The African Medical and Research Foundation

A psychologist and a psychiatrist monitored the post-traumatic stress levels of both the children and their mothers to see if the mothers’ stress levels had a direct effect on their children. They measured three areas of stress manifestation in the mothers: re-experiencing the bomb blast, anxiety and avoidance of talking about the attack. The children were monitored for stress through behavior such as hyperactivity, potential for creativity, their attention spans and social or antisocial behavior. At the same time, a control study was conducted with a similar age group of children born to non-traumatized mothers.

Results showed that stress levels of the mothers were declining slowly with time. However, their children had very high levels of hyperactivity and depression and corresponding challenges in creativity, attention span and social behavior compared to those in the control group.

The tests imply that in-utero stress induced by war, domestic violence or disasters can adversely affect the fetus by impairing psychological development.

“A traumatic experience triggers adrenalin that throws you into a survival state of fight or flight. The physical effect is to cut short the blood supply to the womb,” explained Susan. “Our findings reinforce a theory that a pregnant mother’s emotional experiences can be passed on to the child she is carrying.”

How a Healthy Lifestyle Can Help Your Skin

Your skin is both tough and delicate, being sensitive to some things and able to stand up to others. For an organ this versatile, it makes sense that a diverse, healthy lifestyle is best for it. Here are some tips on how a healthy lifestyle can promote younger-looking skin.

1. Getting Enough Sleep

Getting at least eight hours of sleep a night is an important aspect of a healthy lifestyle, and the amount of rest you get (or don’t get) each night does, according to experts, affect your skin. Haggard, baggy skin and under-eye circles may result from a lack of sleep.

Also, night-time is when skin heals and repairs itself. Forcing your skin to keep going without that crucial repair time may result in tired, weak skin cells that look aged. Weak skin cells are also less resistant to stresses such as sun exposure.

2. Stress Reduction

Many people lead a healthy lifestyle in order to help reduce stress. That may include Yoga, Pilates, meditation, or other methods to achieve peace within. Many health experts and even religious leaders point out that inner peace is reflected outwardly in the face. Stress has been known to cause “worry lines” and an overall tired look on the face.

3. Exercise

Have you ever noticed your face being flushed after a workout? Regular exercise is a part of a healthy lifestyle, and it promotes circulation all over the body, including the skin. Circulation is how the body removes toxins and delivers oxygen, and that’s important for healthy, young-looking skin.

4. Nutrition

Good nutrition is another vital part of being healthy. Some vitamins are specifically good for the skin, such as vitamins A, C, D and E. Some forms of vitamin D are actually manufactured in the skin in response to moderate sun exposure.

Taking a supplement may be necessary for some people to get enough of these key vitamins. But those who practice a healthy lifestyle usually adopt a well-balanced diet that includes lots of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, which work together to provide your body with the vitamins and minerals it needs.

Antioxidants and healthy fats and oils are also key components of a healthy lifestyle. Fish oil in the form of supplements or fatty fish (salmon, sardines and arctic char for example) provide some of these important fats that help strengthen cell membranes. Olive, canola, and flax oils are also important sources of healthy fats. Snacking on nuts and seeds is another way to get these key nutrients into your body and, ultimately, onto your skin.

Healthy Living by Following Healthy

Healthy eating tips are a requirement in a healthy lifestyle that is structured around a well-balanced proper diet. These strategies can help you become one step closer to living this healthy lifestyle. Healthy living requires a life-long commitment so these tips will make the transition of unhealthy behaviors into healthy behaviors easier. Gradual changes can lead to success on your goals for living and promoting a healthy lifestyle.

Healthy eating tips should encompass your whole diet. To ensure adequate protein, choosing lean meat for each meal should be paramount.

Eating protein can help satisfy hunger and you will be less likely to overeat. The most common mistake that people make that you need to watch out for is portion size. A normal protein serving should only be three to four ounces.

Fruits and vegetables are very important in a well-balanced diet. Eating five to ten servings a day of fruits and vegetables will help you follow the daily requirements for vitamins and minerals, not to mention the other beneficial properties in providing key nutrients to maintain adequate body functioning. The benefits of adequate intake of fruits and vegetables are endless.

Nuts and seeds should be utilized as healthy snacks. They provide protein and can help lower cholesterol in the bloodstream.

One of the most important healthy eating tips to follow is eating foods that are all natural. Preservatives are unhealthy and have been linked to certain cancers. When you do your shopping, shop the perimeters of the store. This is where the meat, dairy, and produce are located. You’ll be less likely to buy “junk food”.

Healthy eating is much easier when you plan your meals. It also makes shopping easier when you have to take fewer trips to the store. By planning meals, you are able to stick with a healthier, well-balanced diet. There is not any guesswork when it comes to your meals and what you are going to eat.

These are only a few healthy eating tips. When you follow these tips, you will be on the fast track to a healthier lifestyle and a healthier body. With the benefits of a nutritionally sound plan to maintain a life-long commitment in adequate diet, you will reap the benefits for years to come.