Category Archives: General

The Folly of Reductionism

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Reductionism is a common belief among scientists and researchers in Western medicine. The idea is that anything can best be understood by looking at its parts. When you comprehend how each part works then you can appreciate the thing of which they are a part.

This is the way I was trained in veterinary school. When studying anatomy, we started with a dead, preserved animal body. We examined the skin, fur, and other superficial structures. Then we cut deeper to look at the muscles, nerves, and blood vessels. We went still deeper to the bones and internal organs.

Along the way, we learned a lot about the body, but unlearned the true “meaning” of the animal itself. In the end, it was hard to identify the species that we started with. In fact, what we really learned was to see every animal as a lump of meat. We had to become hardened to the animal in front of us. There was no way we could cut a body to pieces thinking about how this dog was once someone’s best friend.

In the end, reductionism does not work. It goes something like this: we can best understand an animal by understanding the organs and tissues that make it up. We can best understand the organs and tissues by understanding the cells they are made of. We can best understand the cells by understanding the organelles within each cell. We can best understand the organelles by understanding the molecules they are made of. We can best understand the molecules by understanding their constituent atoms. We can best understand the atoms by understanding the sub-atomic particles. OOPS!

It turns out that sub-atomic particles are pretty hard to understand. For example, such a particle can have the properties of a wave at one time and the properties of a particle at another time. Since waves and particles have very different abilities (waves bend around an object and particles do not) it is impossible to understand subatomic particles using any logic we know of.

So, if you cannot understand subatomic particles it follows that you cannot understand atoms which means you cannot understand molecules which means you cannot understand organelles which means you cannot understand cells and on up the line. You cannot fully understand anything by simply understanding its parts.

There is more to a pet than flesh and blood. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts! This is the holistic philosophy in a nut shell.

Next week I’ll write about how the struggle between the holistic philosophy and reductionism applies to nutrition.

Carrageenan: A Nasty Pet Food Toxin

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Carrageenan is an ingredient of canned pet diets used to thicken, stabilize, and emulsify the food. It is used in many canned pet foods basically to improve the appearance and texture. There is absolutely no nutritional value to this ingredient.

Carrageenan is actually a group of compounds extracted from various species of red seaweed. As such, it is considered a “natural” ingredient. Now, the consumption seaweed itself has many health benefits. However, when you isolate this one family of constituents, problems arise.

While many types of carrageenan are harmless, there are forms that cause inflammation and predispose to cancer. Food-grade carrageenan is supposed to be free of the dangerous forms. Unfortunately, studies show that the carrageenan used in foods contain small amounts (up to 5%) of the nasty stuff. Food-grade carrageenan has been shown to increase free radicals and decrease insulin sensitivity as well as cause inflammation.

Seventy percent of canned pet foods contain carrageenan. Pets that are fed mostly canned food may consume enough of this toxin to cause inflammation and cancer. While dry pet foods have many negative health effects, canned foods with this ingredient may be even worse.

The sad thing is that carrageenan can easily be replaced by safer foods such as tomato paste, guar gum, potato starch, pea starch, tapioca, and garbanzo bean flour. Of course, none of these are appropriate foods for dogs and cats either – just less toxic.

By the way, many “natural” human foods such as certain dairy products, sandwich meats, infant formulas, dairy substitutes (e.g. almond and soy milk), frozen pizza dough, and others also contain carrageenan. Check your food labels carefully. Here is more info on carragenan in human foods.

It is impossible to list foods that do not contain carrageenan because pet food manufacturers frequently change formulations. The packaging and name may be the same but what’s in the can may change. The bottom line is to read labels and buyer beware.

Of course the way to avoid the many toxins found in processed pet foods is to feed a balance raw diet instead. That’s the kind of diet that Mother Nature intended pets to eat. In other words, pets have evolved eating unprocessed foods and their genetics have not changed significantly since they were hunters/scavengers.

If you feed canned pet food, check the label and let us know whether or not it contains carrageenan.

Vaccines – One Size Fits All?

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I recently attended a veterinary vaccine program and was able to have many of my questions answered. For example, I have always wondered why 1 cc of vaccine was considered suitable for every dog, no matter what the size – from a ½ pound Chihuahua puppy to a 150 pound Great Dane. How is it possible that the same dose is appropriate?

Several years ago I had asked a vaccine company veterinarian this question. The response I got was that despite the difference in animal weight, their immune systems were the same size. I asked myself, “How is that even possible?” That was definitely a worthless answer.

My concern over dose of vaccine per pound of dog was heightened by a 2005 study. It found that vaccine adverse events increase as the weight of the dog decreases. In other words, small dogs (those receiving a higher dose of vaccine per pound) have more adverse events. All I can say is, “Duh!”

The Boehringer Ingelheim (BI) vaccine company program was very informative. I got to talk to the researchers who actually make vaccines and ask them the hard questions.

As to the dose of vaccine, the first point the speaker made was that the antigen portion of the vaccine makes up only 1/1013 of the total volume. That’s 0.0001 parts per billion – equivalent to 1 drop in the amount of water carried by 1,000 tanker trucks each carrying 80,000 gallons!

Apparently, a tiny amount of modified live antigen has a strong effect on the immune system. So when I’m talking about dose of vaccine, it may not be the antigen that’s important but rather all the other stuff (contaminants, preservatives, adjuvants, etc.) that’s in there.

The second point the speaker made was that there is a certain minimum volume of fluid needed to distribute the antigen into the subcutaneous tissue so the immune system reacts adequately. He knows this because BI has actually pioneered technology to filter out extraneous materials from their vaccines and have gotten the volume down to ½ cc per vaccine. In the process, they have made vaccines that cause 10 times fewer adverse events. (Of course we’re still giving the same amount to every sized dog).

I am definitely a minimalist when it comes to vaccines. Some are necessary but only those needed based on the animal’s lifestyle. Of course, I take all industry-sponsored “informational” programs with a grain of salt. But, I have to say that I feel good about switching to the BI vaccines.

More about vaccines next week.

Have any of your pets had problems with vaccines?