Dear New York Times and Washington Post, Grain Free Diets DON'T Break Hearts--Meat Free Diets DO
A torrent of articles on "grain free" diets linked to taurine- deficient cardiomyopathy-- a form of heart muscle failure appeared in the news last month. Just google: grain free pet food + heart disease.
As well and as usual, science illiterate incompetent "journalists" picked up megaphones happy to confuse and frighten the publc.
They succeeded. Some of my clients are really scared. Luna's mom, is one of them. She is terrified after learning that Golden Retrievers are dying of heart failure on grain free diets. Luna has been eating one all her life.
Luna, whom I've known since she was a four pound ball of fuzzy golden puppy love, isn't only cherished by her family, me, and my staff. She is a highly trained assistance dog for kids with learning disabilities whom her soft non judgmental presence gently supports to read.
In spite of Luna's glistening coat, happy wagging tail, bouncy gait, bountiful energy, and my confident reassurances that Luna is not suffering from heart disease, Luna's mom is really worried.
For her it is Deja Vu. Her last Golden Retriever, Murphy, tragically died of heart cancer at just eight years of age.
On a Golden Retriever Facebook Page, with thousands of other Golden Retriever owners she is sharing her research. She is engaged directly with Dr. Josh Stern, a UC Davis cardiologist funded by Morris Foundation to study taurine deficient cardiomyopathy in Golden Retrievers.
What is Taurine?
Taurine is a sulfur amino acid required by cats that dogs can synthesize from precursors, methionine and cysteine. Unlike most amino acids-- building blocks of proteins- taurine is remarkable, because it isn't used to build proteins. Taurine concentrations are high in animal tissues where it is integral to heart and retinal function, conjugation of bile acids and other roles.
To reassure the worried owner, we draw a blood sample into heparinized green tubes she packages on ice, Fed-Exing with meticulously completed forms to UC Davis amino acid lab.
Within a few days Luna's whole blood taurine level are reported- 205.
We are home free, I think.
There is no known risk for taurine deficiency with levels above 150!
But no, not so fast.
Luna's mom is getting inundated with condolences from her FaceBook Friends.
Where this taurine level came from is anyone's guess--indeed, the head of the UC Davis amino acid lab who authored several studies on taurine deficient cardiomyopathy who kindly wrote me about Luna, has so far been unable to answer how "normals" for Golden Retrievers were derived.
So, the owner scrambles to get Luna's heart imaged by a local cardiologist. A week later, her cardiac ultrasound reveals completely normal heart function, appropriate chamber dimensions and perfectly normal heart muscle contractility.
Finally.... after weeks, a blood test and an evaluation by a cardiac specialist, the family can put their worries to rest.
Luna is fine--something I was confident of before these tests were even ordered or completed, having seen a taurine-deficient dog decades earlier.
1989..... the year I saw taurine deficient cardiomyopathy at UC Davis.
A Vegan Dalmatian. Bad. Bad. Very BAD IDEA!
Unlike shiny happy Luna running around our lobby, that Dalmatian was a sad, pitiful sight. Her flabby heart muscle too weakened to pump blood from her lungs, drowning in fluid-- every single breath, a battle for air. Her dull spot- coated body barely able to walk.
Remarkably, six months of a standard drug treatment of dilated cardiomyopathy (digoxin, a diuretic, and a vasodilator) plus, notably, a meat diet--brought us a new shiny, vital and happy creature.
Reversal --The hallmark of nutritional cardiomyopathy.
Unlike Dobermans, Boxers, and Great Danes with genetically- linked dilated cardiomyopathy whose disease inevitably progresses and which is fatal, typically within six months, we were able to take the Dalmatian dog off all her heart medications in six months, after adding meat to her vegetarian diet, instead.
Addition of meat, not grains, lead to resolution of heart failure in a dog of a breed not classically associated with genetically linked dilated cardiomyopathy. These non-traditional breeds now include American cocker spaniels, Newfoundlands and Golden Retrievers.
Note to self: dogs absolutely must have meat. They are giant, big, medium, little, toy and teacup, silky, long haired, smooth, curly or scruffy. Yet they are all, all........domesticated grey wolves! :)
So, I am highly skeptical of the premise of this flood of fake news that will have believe that absence of grain (rather than animal tissues, so called meat) in pet food is dangerous. Grains neither contain taurine, nor are they rich in sulfur amino acid--methionine and cysteine that dogs can convert into taurine. Indeed, grains such as soybeans are known to deplete taurine by their effects on bile acids.
Education. Unbiased Scientific Information You Won't Find in the Press
Add protein (amino acids), sugars and heat.
Poof...Taurine is gone!
The scientific mystery isn't so mysterious. Insufficient taurine from meat plus processing --heating protein and starches ( whether from potatoes or grains being irrelevant) causes a famous reaction you will recognize because you'vet tasted it and enjoyed the aromas.
Maillard Reaction, a non-enzymatic Browning Chemical Reaction degrades taurine when sugar and amino acids react creating hundreds of products that impart delicious aromas and complex flavors on your favorite dishes.
Please Stop Fear-mongering PR Campaigns.
This vet isn't fearful of grain- free diets.
She is worried about misinforming, mis-education campaigns birthed by the mainstream media, including America's Paper of Record --The New York Times and Washington Post publishing thinly veiled marketing for Pet Food Industry, as journalism. This is not journalism.
"...Lisa Freeman, a veterinary nutritionist and researcher with the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, sees this moment as an opportunity to view grain-free diets skeptically. “Contrary to advertising and popular belief, there is no research to demonstrate that grain-free diets offer any health benefits over diets that contain grains,” she said
Grains are an important source of protein and other nutrients in many meat-based pet foods, she continued. “Grains have not been linked to any health problems except in the very rare situation when a pet has an allergy to a specific grain.”
Reminder: Taurine is the most abundant free amino acid in animal tissues. There is no scientific evidence nor plausible mechanism or rationale to believe grains prevent taurine deficient heart disease in dogs. Grains are not good sources of taurine, nor precursor sulfur amino acids that dogs convert to taurine.
To wit, taurine deficient cardiomyopathy has been reported in dogs on pet foods with grains.
Why does an educated intelligent person miss the blatantly obvious and simple truth: dogs are meat eaters?
What's going on?
Well, go back and read the New York Times, Washington Post or any of many articles on this subject just published. You will inevitably be directed back to industry-the very same one whose current standards don't establish taurine levels essential in dog foods.
And this vet doesn't consider $26 Billion/ year Pet Food Industry to be legitimate medical experts. They have a very strong bias and a conflict of interest- loyalty to profit-making pet food companies rather than your pet.
She is concerned about the power and influence they wield over the FDA and Veterinary Schools.
Color her skeptical of the FDA's sincerity in it's concern for pet's health. After nearly a decade FDA still hasn't managed to figure out what's sickened 6,200 dogs, and killed 1,140. nor to screen pet foods for adulterants like euthanasia solution.
She is appalled that the Best Veterinary Schools in the world have been captured by Pet Food Industry decades ago, consequently graduate veterinarians brainwashed by Pet Food Industry.
“The truth is from a genetic perspective, dogs really aren’t that much like wolves anymore. Dogs evolved and so have their digestive tracts,” Stern said. “We’re not looking at a bunch of little wolves running around eating kibble.”
The truth, Josh, is that dogs aren't little goats, sheep or cattle galloping in pastures nibbling on corn and soybeans.
We may have selected the most docile wolves with juvenile traits, but there is no evidence that we changed their digestive function to herbivores. Indeed, dogs and wolves aren't even really different species since they can interbreed producing fertile offspring.
Scientifically, evolutionary studies on dog genes controlling pancreatic function, indeed show dogs to be 100% identical to grey wolves.
Fear Based Marketing
Look forward to pea-free, potato-free and remember: none are worse than grains they replaced apart from the fact that neither grains nor peas or potatoes are an adequate replacement for meat.
I speculate that unlike potatoes, peas, lentils and legumes-- grains are:
1. traded commodities on Wall Street
2. much cheaper than meat dogs actually need!
3. are often genetically modified (GMO) corn and soybeans (considered grains) and saturated with residues of an herbicide (Round Up) in unknown and FDA-unreported quantities.
4. We do know that replacement of animal protein with soybean (grain) protein depletes taurine.
5. We also know that Monsanto who gifted us Round Up saturated soybeans and corn was recently found guilty of causing lymphoma and ordered to pay $289 million to just one Round Up cancer victim.
Other taurine stuff for hard core science buffs
Besides Maillard reaction and lack of sufficient sulfur amino acids from meat, intestinal microbes play an important role in animals' taurine status.
Kim SW1, Rogers QR, Morris "Maillard reaction products in purified diets induce taurine depletion in cats which is reversed by antibiotics." J Nutr. 1996 Jan;126(1):195-201. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8558301
Kim SW1, Rogers QR, Morris JG."Dietary antibiotics decrease taurine loss in cats fed a canned heat-processed diet" J Nutr. 1996 Feb;126(2):509-15.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8632225
Kim SW1, Morris JG, Rogers QR "Dietary soybean protein decreases plasma taurine in cats" J Nutr. 1995 Nov;125(11):2831-7 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7472663
Kittleson MD1, Keene B, Pion PD, Loyer CG. "Results of the multicenter spaniel trial (MUST): taurine- and carnitine-responsive dilated cardiomyopathy in American cocker spaniels with decreased plasma taurine concentration"
J Vet Intern Med. 1997 Jul Aug;11(4):20411 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9298474
Backus, R.C., et al. “Taurine Deficiency in Newfoundlands Fed Commercially Available Complete and Balanced Diets.” Journal of American Veterinary Association, vol. 223, no. 8, 15 Oct. 2003, pp. 1130–1136., http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14584742.
Backus, R.C., et al. “Low Plasma Taurine Concentration in Newfoundland Dogs Is Associated with Low Plasma Methionine and Cyst(e)Ine Concentrations and Low Taurine Synthesis.” The Journal of Nutrition, vol. 136, no. 10, 1 Oct. 2006, pp. 2525–2533., http://academic.oup.com/jn/article/136/10/2525/4746691.
Delaney, S.J., et al. “Plasma and Whole Blood Taurine in Normal Dogs of Varying Size Fed Commercially Prepared Food.” Journal of Animal Physiology and Animal Nutrition, vol. 87, no. 5-6, June 2003, pp. 236–244.,http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12752830
“FDA Investigating Potential Connection Between Diet and Cases of Canine Heart Disease.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, 12 July 2018,http://www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/NewsEvents/CVMUpdates/ucm613305.htm.
Freeman, Lisa. “A Broken Heart: Risk of Heart Disease in Boutique or Grain-Free Diets and Exotic Ingredients.” Clinical Nutrition Service at Cummings School, 4 June 2018,http://www.vetnutrition.tufts.edu/2018/06/a-broken-heart-risk-of-heart-disease-in-boutique-or-grain-free-diets-and-exotic-ingredients/
Ko, Kwang Suk, and Andrea Fascetti. “Dietary Beet Pulp Decreases Taurine Status in Dogs Fed Low Protein Diet.” Journal of Animal Science and Technology, vol. 58, Aug. 2016, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4971673/
Li Yu and Ya-ping Zhang " The Unusual Adaptive Expansion of Pancreatic Ribonuclease Gene in Carnivora" Mol. Biol. Evol.23(12):2326–2335. 2006 https://academic.oup.com/mbe/article/23/12/2326/972434
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