In human health care, there are numerous claims that some foods can be a miracle cure for all kinds of ailments, including cancer. While many claims can be taken with a grain of salt, there are some studies that suggest that certain nutritional supplements indeed have effects against cancer cells, particularly when they're combined with more traditional treatments such as chemotherapy.
In spite of the interest in such treatments in people, there has been very limited research into the use of nutraceuticals in dogs. It's important that we don't assume that their effects in dogs will be the same as those in people because the two species have different digestive tracts. However, scientists are starting to turn their attention to the use of such treatments in our canine friends. A recent study involving scientists from Cornell University looked at the use of five nutraceuticals and whether they had an effect on the proliferation of canine cancer cells. The products studied were green tea, pomegranate, turmeric, rosemary, and black pepper. Each of these products contains antioxidants that have been shown to have an effect on human cells.
In this study, three lines of canine cancer cells were used (mast cells, mammary cancer cells, and bone cancer cells), and the growth of these cells were measured. Each cell line was then exposed to a range of concentrations of each of the nutraceuticals and the effect on cell proliferation was measured. In this study, turmeric was most potent in reducing cell proliferation and it was most effective when combined with rosemary. This combination was also effective when combined with standard chemotherapeutic treatment, and in fact appeared to enhance its effect.
It's not well understood how these nutraceuticals have their effects on cell multiplication. One theory is that the curcumins in turmeric interfere with cell metabolic processes and affect their ability to reproduce. Rosemary contains carnosic acid, which also appears to have an anti-cancer effect.
Another study was conducted into the use of vegetables in managing bladder cancer in Scottish Terriers. This showed that there appeared to be a relationship between a lower risk of this type of cancer and an increased intake of vegetables. Not all dogs enjoy extra vegetables in their dinner bowl, but it may be worth adding some green leafy vegetables and some yellow-orange vegetables to your pets’ diet.
The take-home message from these studies is that there is evidence that nutraceuticals can indeed play an important role in the management of cancer. They may reduce the risk of cancer developing in the first place, as in the study with Scottish Terriers, or they can enhance the effect of traditional treatments such as chemotherapy, which was seen with the use of turmeric and rosemary. It's essential that pet parents don't regard these treatments as a sole way of managing cancer in their pets, but that they consider it an additional treatment that may improve the outcome for their canine family member. If a dog is given a nutraceutical, their veterinarian should be advised so that they can monitor the dog's health and avoid any potential interactions between treatments.