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Finally! A Study That Proves Processed Pet Food Can Cause Disease

Story at-a-glance -

  • Dr. Danielle Conway, the first American Holistic Veterinary Medical Foundation (AHVMF) fellowship recipient, is putting all her holistic medicine training to work helping very sick animal patients
  • Dr. Conway, who plans to become a board-certified veterinary nutritionist, is also developing a veterinary nutrition program with an integrative focus
  • She has completed a pilot study that proves the presence of health-damaging compounds (advanced glycation end products) in processed pet food

By Dr. Becker

Joining me today is integrative veterinarian Dr. Danielle Conway. Dr. Conway received her training at the University of Wisconsin, and unlike many vet students, she knew going in that she wanted to practice integrative veterinary medicine.

After graduating with a veterinary degree, as Dr. Conway explains it:

“I tortured myself by doing a small animal rotating internship with a nutrition focus at North Carolina State University. It was a wonderful internship, I learned a lot, but I didn’t sleep much!”

Dr. Conway then went on to become the recipient of the first American Holistic Veterinary Medical Foundation (AHVMF) integrative veterinary fellowship at the University of Tennessee. Mercola Healthy Pets had the honor and pleasure of helping to sponsor that fellowship.

These days, Dr. Conway is busy developing a nutrition program as part of her work toward becoming a board-certified veterinary nutritionist with an integrative focus.

This is especially exciting to me, because there are very few board-certified veterinary nutritionists who focus on issues of nutrition beyond what they learned in their conventional veterinary training. In fact, the entire holistic veterinary community is excited and inspired by the direction Dr. Conway is taking in the area of nutrition. She’s truly a pioneer in the ranks of board-certified veterinary nutritionists.

Dr. Conway’s two-year nutrition residency will cost about $100,000, which is standard.

The Difference Between a Traditional and an Integrative Physical Exam

During the two years she’s been in practice, Dr. Conway has already seen countless patients that made her grateful for her training in holistic medicine. She practices acupuncture, chiropractic, herbal medicine, and she’s currently getting certified in rehabilitation therapy and Chinese herbal medicine.

As she explains, “I don’t do just a regular physical exam on my patients. I combine a traditional physical exam with a neurologic exam, an orthopedic exam, an acupuncture exam, a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) exam, plus chiropractic.”

This type of integrative approach allows Dr. Conway to pick up nuances about an animal’s health that could be easily overlooked during a standard physical exam. Most of the patients that are referred to her are quite sick.

The integrative tools Dr. Conway uses to evaluate her patients allow her to hone in on the primary problem and the best way to treat it, often even before the advanced diagnostic imaging results come back. “It makes me look way more magical than I am,” says Dr. Conway.

Dr. Conway also enjoys working with veterinary students and taking them beyond what they learned in veterinary school by demonstrating, for example, chiropractic manipulations. As she’s demonstrating a technique, she’s also explaining why she’s doing it and the science behind it.

When she works with students formulating veterinary diets, she explains, for example, why copper is an important mineral and what it does in the body.

Dr. Conway is able to inspire interest in students about holistic and integrative therapies they weren’t exposed to in veterinary school. Several have gone on to work toward certification in chiropractic and acupuncture.

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Objective Pet Nutrition Studies Get No Funding

I asked Dr. Conway, if money were no object, what type of holistic medicine research she would like to see done. She replied that she would love to do more whole nutrition-based studies (non-branded studies).

She would also like to see more research into herbs. She has found that when she can cite a study on a particular herb that she wants to try, everyone immediately gets on board. They don’t even need to read the study. Just the fact that a study exists is enough for them. It’s a good demonstration of the benefit of published research on medical treatments.

Funding for studies is extremely hard to come by. Even the National Institutes of Health isn’t sponsoring many studies these days.

Big pet food companies fund their own research, but those studies really can’t be considered objective. As Dr. Conway points out,

“If you go that route, you really have to make sure the study will be published regardless of the results, and not just sort of tucked away if the results aren’t favorable (to the pet food company).”

Advanced Glycation End Products (AGE) and Processed Pet Food

Dr. Conway’s current research project is looking into advanced glycation end products (AGE). These are compounds that form as the result of what is known as the Maillard reaction. When a protein joins with a carbohydrate, the biochemical result is a compound that can cause widespread inflammation and damage in the body.

Advanced glycation end products have been extensively studied in humans, and have been shown to exacerbate diabetes and interfere with kidney function. AGE has also been linked to aging, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and more recently, neurologic disease such as intervertebral disc disease.

AGE studies in humans have revealed that we make the compound in our bodies, but we also have mechanisms to deal with it. However, if we eat a diet high in processed foods, it increases the level of AGE in our bodies.

A direct link exists between the amount of processed foods consumed and the level of AGE in the blood. The reverse is also true: eat foods low in AGE and AGE blood levels decrease. In fact, studies show that when people with diabetes eat a low AGE diet, it improves insulin sensitivity and kidney function.

This is exciting to me because we know that processed pet food contains high levels of advanced glycation end products, and of course the companies who make these foods aren’t about to do studies on the effects of AGE in pets.

I know for a fact that processed pet food causes inflammation in dogs’ bodies because I see it in my practice. Dr. Conway is going to be able to prove scientifically that it is happening, and hers will be the first study I’m aware of in pets.

It will be objective research because no pet food companies are involved, and I feel it will be an incredibly important study because it will highlight the importance of fresh food diets for animals. Her study will provide the proof conventional veterinarians demand to begin thinking more seriously about the benefits of fresh food for pets.

Pet Food Pilot Study Shows Less Processing = Lower Blood Levels of AGE

Dr. Conway explained that the preliminary pilot study, in which she looked at the presence of AGE in different types of pet foods, is complete. What she found across-the-board is that the less processing that occurs, the less heat applied, the more moisture maintained, the lower the AGE.

The next step is to take the results of the pilot study and do a feeding trial with dogs.

Many thanks to Dr. Danielle Conway for talking with me today about her exciting research into veterinary nutrition, and the ways she’s able to apply all her holistic medicine training in treating patients. I can’t wait to hear more from her in the future and see the results of her nutrition studies!

Dr. Conway is very thankful to Mercola Healthy Pets and all those that supported her AHFM Foundation fellowship. I’m hopeful the foundation can raise enough money to help fund another fellowship in the near future, and also to help support Dr. Conway’s nutrition research projects.

How You Can Help

To donate, go to the AHVMF website, click on Ways to Give on the top menu, and there you’ll find a number of different ways to make a donation. If you’re not comfortable donating online, scroll down to the bottom of the Ways to Give page, and you’ll see a Ways to Donate Online and Offline link.

At AHVMF.org, you can also read amazing stories of animals who have been healed with holistic medicine, as well as stories of animal teachers. There’s also a blog that reports on some of the projects the foundation is working on. If you have any questions while visiting the site, you can send the foundation an email at [email protected].


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