Pet improvement: Food is medicine

Alexander Johannes Michels, Ph.D, Communications and Research Coordinator at the Linus Pauling Institute in Corvallis,stands in front of a depiction of the crystalline structure of vitamin C painted by William Shumway. (Courtesy photo)

The holiday season centers on great food. Yet it’s not the taste that is so important, it’s the incredible complex amounts of critical, life-supporting nutrients that wholesome food provides for people and pets.

To illustrate this, I contacted the world-famous Linus Pauling Institute (LPI) at Oregon State University in Corvallis. The namesake was considered by many to be the father of molecular biology. He won the Nobel Prizes for Chemistry in 1954 and for Peace in 1962, and published over 1000 scientific papers. Pauling is considered one of the top 20 scientists of all time. He believed that nearly all disease was the result of nutritional deficiencies. He is well known for the work with the powerful antioxidant, vitamin C. Unfortunately, even with all his credentials he was labeled a quack for his beliefs.

But not so today, said Alexander Johannes Michels, Ph.D. in Biochemistry and Biophysics and the Communications and Research Coordinator at LPI. They are celebrating 20 years since the founding of the Micronutrient Information Center; the center is a compendium of scientific data such as published research and clinical trial results on foods, supplements and essential nutrients. Their research has expanded to cover a vast array of micronutrients such as vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals — plant-derived chemicals — and antioxidants.

Michels says that people and pets are similar in their needs for micronutrients, the amounts are what differs. There are Recommended Daily Allowances for people and for pets its determined by the Association of American Feed Control officials. However, these standards do not account for the varying needs by age, diet, genetics and activity. They have already found that as people age, they have lower levels of C. But why?

Upper-level primates such as humans do not synthesize their own C. They must get all of it from diet and supplementation. Pets and most animals, however, do make vitamin C.

There is a difference in being deficient in a nutrient and meeting that minimum, versus the amounts necessary for optimum health. There is also the phenomenon of absorption and interference and many other factors that affect nutrient uptake. Many of the studies done on C are flawed for these reasons. 

Micronutrients can be very sensitive. For instance, C doesn’t do well with heat, air or light. It doesn’t work well with copper or iron. He said the minute you start working with it in the lab, it starts to degrade.

One concern that Michels has for pet parents is to pay attention to fat-soluble vitamins such as A, E and K. Although pet food companies use professional formulators, these components can appear in multiple sources and create toxicity. This differs from water-soluble vitamins such as the Bs and C where excess is excreted.

It seems there is not much interest in funding more C research. The overall thinking is that it has been done. Plus, it’s cheap and readily available. Pharma would not be interested because it’s not a drug. But Michels believes that in the last decade there has been so many new discoveries on the biochemistry of humans and animals that it needs to be done. We need to reexamine everything.

For more information on the genius of Linus Pauling, visit: For more about the Micronutrient Information Center, visit: To read more about essential micronutrients in foods, visit:


Jane Laulis is an avid pet lover. She hosts a pet talk radio show and is involved with pets from research to retail, nutrition to pet food manufacturing. She lives on the coast with her scientist husband, ocean faring dogs, indoor cats, exotic snakes and a charm of hummingbirds. She may be reached at [email protected]


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