Truth be told, everyone wants the quick fix. They want the magic pill or the unicorn potion that will magically make things go away. Lately, I’ve been asked about Nrf2 for dogs and if it will make the itch go away. This article will dive into what it is and how yet again why I find myself turning to Chinese Medicine.
What Are Nrf2 Supplements For Dogs?
Nrf2, or Nuclear factor erythroid 2-related factor 2, is a protein in mammals that regulates the expression of antioxidant proteins. It plays a critical role in defending cells against oxidative damage and inflammation, which are linked to various health problems, including allergies.
Nrf2 Activators are supplements that activate the Nrf2 genetic pathway that regulates the production of important antioxidants such as glutathione and superoxide dismutase (SOD), as well as detoxification enzymes including glutathione- S transferase, while down-regulating inflammatory factors such as NF-kB.
Nrf2 activators are substances that stimulate or enhance the activity of the Nrf2 protein. They are thought to promote the body’s natural antioxidant defenses and reduce inflammation. While Nrf2 activators are studied and used more frequently in humans, they can also be applied in the context of veterinary medicine, including for dogs.
When it comes to allergies in dogs, these are often caused by an overactive immune response that results in inflammation and oxidative stress in various parts of the body. Common allergens for dogs include certain foods, fleas, dust mites, and pollens. Allergic reactions can lead to a variety of symptoms, including itching, skin irritations, and gastrointestinal problems.
Nrf2 activators may help to alleviate these symptoms by boosting the dog’s natural antioxidant defenses and reducing inflammation. These substances could potentially mitigate the oxidative stress and inflammation associated with allergic reactions, which may improve the dog’s overall health and wellbeing.
Nrf2 pathways also plays a crucial role in maintaining cellular homeostasis by enhancing the cell’s ability to respond to oxidative stress and other forms of stress. Dysregulation of the Nrf2 pathway has been linked to various diseases, including cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, cardiovascular diseases, and aging-related diseases, underscoring the importance of this pathway in maintaining health and homeostasis.
What Are The Ingredients in Nrf2 Activators?
Most brands formulate with, turmeric and green tea. It may have another few ingredients which will vary from brand to brand.
What Else Can Nrf2 Activators Be Made From?
- Sulforaphane: Found in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, brussels sprouts, and cabbages, sulforaphane is one of the most potent activators of the Nrf2 pathway.
- Curcumin: This compound, which gives turmeric its distinctive yellow color, has been shown to activate the Nrf2 pathway and has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
- Resveratrol: Found in the skin of grapes and in red wine, resveratrol can activate Nrf2 and is known for its anti-aging, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties. (NOT FOR DOGS – ONLY FOR HUMAN SUPPLEMENTS)
- Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG): This is a type of catechin found in green tea. EGCG can activate Nrf2 and is known for its antioxidant properties.
- Quercetin: A flavonoid found in many fruits, vegetables, leaves, and grains, quercetin has been shown to activate Nrf2.
- Ellagic Acid: Found in many fruits and nuts, particularly in pomegranates, raspberries, and walnuts, ellagic acid has been shown to activate Nrf2.
These substances can be taken in their natural forms through a balanced diet, or they can be taken as dietary supplements.
Turn To Food Instead of a Supplement
Supplements are when companies find a compound in nature and make it in a laboratory so that they can sell it to you for a profit.
Not only that, there are many sulforaphane-based supplements that say they’re made from broccoli and don’t contain broccoli.
Similarly, there are some supplements that just contain glucoraphanin–the precursor of sulforaphane–but don’t contain the enzyme needed to make the sulforaphane.
Even though it seems like maxing out Nrf2 activation would always be a good thing, there are risks involved. Research shows that, in people that already have cancer, activating Nrf2 could lead to resistance to chemotherapy. Until we have more research I would hold off on Nrf2 supplements as a cure, and rather just look at it as another tool when we’re fighting inflammation.
Also, instead of buying a supplement, you can turn to whole foods. Mother Nature didn’t make any mistakes when she provided food for us to draw from. The following list of 17 vegetables are what you can feed to your dog if you’re looking to activate the Nrf2 pathway.
- Broccoli: Contains sulforaphane, a potent Nrf2 activator.
- Brussels sprouts: Another cruciferous vegetable high in sulforaphane.
- Kale: Like other cruciferous vegetables, kale contains sulforaphane.
- Cabbage: Also contains sulforaphane.
- Cauliflower: A source of sulforaphane.
- Turnips: Contains glucosinolates, which can be broken down into isothiocyanates like sulforaphane.
- Rutabagas: Like turnips, rutabagas contain glucosinolates.
- Bok choy: Another cruciferous vegetable high in sulforaphane.
- Turmeric: Contains curcumin, which may activate the Nrf2 pathway.
- Green tea (decaf): Contains the catechin EGCG, which can activate Nrf2.
- Berries (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries): Contains antioxidants like flavonoids that may activate Nrf2.
- Spinach: Contains various antioxidants, including flavonoids.
- Garlic: Contains organosulfur compounds that may activate Nrf2.
- Rosemary: Contains carnosol, a diterpene that can activate Nrf2.
- Oregano: Contains various antioxidants, including rosmarinic acid, which may activate Nrf2.
- Milk Thistle: This plant contains silymarin, a compound that is believed to have antioxidant properties and the potential to activate Nrf2.
- Nettle: Stinging nettle contains a variety of compounds like quercetin which could potentially activate Nrf2.
- Oranges: They contain hesperidin, a flavonoid that can potentially activate Nrf2.
- Tomatoes: They are rich in lycopene, an antioxidant that may activate Nrf2.
- Carrots: Carrots are rich in beta-carotene, which may have some Nrf2 activating properties.
- Pomegranates: These fruits contain ellagic acid, which can activate Nrf2.
- Walnuts: They contain ellagic acid and other antioxidants that may activate Nrf2.
- Ginger: Contains gingerol, which has been shown to activate Nrf2 in some studies.
- Cinnamon: Contains cinnamaldehyde, which can activate Nrf2.
Where Does Chinese Medicine Intersect
TLDR, feeding cruciferous vegetables helps the body fight inflammation.
Interestingly enough, in therapeutic diets, I turn to these very same vegetables when the dogs are itchy. Typically green vegetables are used in Chinese Medicine when we are trying to:
- Clear Heat
- Drain Damp
- Support the Liver
I find it fascinating that Chinese Practitioners observed the healing power of these foods 2,000 years ago.
And, in Chinese Medicine we don’t treat the disease, we treat the patterns of disharmony so that we can help the body return to a state of harmony with itself and with nature.
How To Feed
Some important notes if you want to add these vegetables to your dog’s diet:
- If you can grow broccoli sprouts, they will have 10 to 100 times more sulforaphane than broccoli when the sprouts are 3 days old.
- Rotate your cruciferous vegetables and add up to 25% of your dog’s daily diet. Watch their stool in case this causes the fiber to create lose stools. Only feed 25% for no more than 30 days and then drop it back down to about 10% of the daily diet.
- Always cook vegetables before you feed them to your dog.
- Add fresh (cooked) mushrooms as well to help
Need One on One Help?
Two of my dogs used to be itchy. One was given Apoquel when she was eight months old and I quickly took her off that once I learned the side effects of that drug. When they moved her onto Cytpoint I discontinued it also after a month. I vowed to find a way to heal them through food.
There are many reasons your dog is presenting with the itch and I’ve written a few articles on this topic as well. Hopefully, you will find them useful. If you still need one-on-one help, feel free to book a call with me via the “Heal The Gut” package.
I wish you and dogs good health.
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Kobayashi, E., Suzuki, T., Funayama, R. et al. Nrf2 suppresses macrophage inflammatory response by blocking proinflammatory cytokine transcription. Nat Commun 7, 11624 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1038/ncomms11624
Sporn MB, Liby KT. NRF2 and cancer: the good, the bad and the importance of context. Nat Rev Cancer. 2012 Jul 19;12(8):564-71. doi: 10.1038/nrc3278. PMID: 22810811; PMCID: PMC3836441.
Hannah Zulueta obtained her Certificate in Canine Nutrition from CASI Institute. She is also studying for her Doctorate in Acupuncture, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Herbalism from the esteemed Pacific College of Health and Medicine.
She resides in San Diego with her three dogs, Maggie, Orbit, and Mr. Higgins.