Even if our dogs live into their teens, it never seems long enough from our perspective. Increasing the longevity of our canine companions is something all dog lovers are interested in. In this article, I’ll share two different ways to increase your dog’s lifespan. One takes a holistic approach, and the other uses a conventional medication.
1. Soy isoflavones
The compelling need for animal population control has resulted in spay/neutering as a humane and effective way to achieve absolute contraception. Many cities and counties have spay ordinances and most all shelters require spay/neutering before animals are released.
But spay/neutering does have its drawbacks. Studies have shown that unspayed females live the longest of all dogs. And because all mammals share the same basic physiology, dogs suffer from hormone disruptions just like we do. Spay/neutering causes menopause/andropause along with its associated issues. Just as sex hormone deficiency sets us up for osteoporosis and arthritis, so too are the bones of other mammals similarly tested. Spay/neutering exacts a price of gonadal hormone reduction that impacts bones, joints, bladder function, cognitive function, stress management, cardiovascular function, weight gain and tooth and ligament stability.
Hormone replacement isn’t a real option as it can increase some cancers, is tedious and expensive. But natural soy isoflavones (phytoestrogens) are a safe and very dependable offset that restores many natural hormone functions. When given in proper doses, they re-establish bladder function, bone mineral density, diminish susceptibility to arthritis and ligament injury, and help prevent tooth loss from periodontal disease.
Isoflavones are now classed as selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs). They are hormone-like compounds that do some but not all the things hormones do, much like a piano with only white keys. Soy isoflavones contribute to bone, nerve growth and help maintain joints from becoming arthritic in the first place. They also support bladder function, optimize the appetite feedback loop and contribute to more optimal weight management. They also help animals maintain cognitive function longer. All this can help your dog live longer and remain in better health. Soy isoflavones do taste horrible, but EstraPet biscuits (estrapet.com) mask the flavor using natural chicken and grains.
2. Caloric restriction
The hottest buzz in longevity is caloric restriction (CR). Studies have indicated that CR could increase human lifespans from about 80 to 86 years and maximum life from about 100 to 113 years. This doesn’t mean yet another diet, but a major dietary total caloric reduction (30% to 50%) in what we mammals would eat ad libitum. Trouble is, using diet and exercise alone to reduce calories by this much would give us something between a Twiggy and a swizzle stick body mass index, and would probably trigger animal protection arrest to dog guardians who did the same. In other words, it would mean going on a semi-starvation diet.
Conventional wisdom has been that the cardiovascular system benefits from weight loss by reducing blood pressure, cholesterol/lipid levels and proportions, and improving the physical fitness that usually accompanies dieting and weight reduction. This is true. But there’s more.
Studies have shown that caloric restriction up-regulates the survival and longevity genes that all mammals have but that are generally down-regulated in today’s “normal” human or animal diet. As it turns out, most medicines and natural substances up- and downregulate various genes as the kickoff to their ultimate medical or biological effects. Various physical stressors, including extreme fasting, can do the same. The current methods of severe caloric control include diet, exercise, appetite suppressants and bariatric procedures such as gastric banding and bypass.
Is there a safe compound that can up-regulate the very same genes that are up-regulated by CR? We’re looking not for a weight control compound, but one that identically mimics the effects of CR. Such a compound would have to have a long history, be effective at changing biochemistry and longevity in many mammals, and be safe for humans and dogs. It would have to be inexpensive and start to work even in advanced adulthood. Another question: if it mimics the up-regulation of longevity genes, will it actually lengthen the lifespan? The answer is yes.
If you are a diabetic, then chances are you are familiar with the conventional medication, metformin. It was introduced as a diabetes treatment that makes insulin work better and more efficiently, making insulin shots unnecessary. It is a mainstay of current diabetes treatment and has a history of hundreds of millions of patient years of clinical use. It has been around long enough to be off patent and is now prescribed in generic form.
What is fascinating is how it works. The complexity gets involved, but the bottom line is that is it optimizes energy flow in cells. This optimization leads to “youthful” cell and energy function, and is therefore “life extending”. Metformin’s CR mimetic effect is actually greater in most instances than CR itself. Results from the Petrov Research Instituren of Oncology in St. Petersberg, Russia showed that when metformin was a regular addition to drinking water, there were eye popping longevity results.
Metformin is well studied and familiar to MDs, who have confidence in its safety and usefulness for diabetics. We are also starting to use it more proactively in pre-emptive treatment for folks with obesity, high cholesterol and altered glucose response.
Although continuing studies consistently show that metformin can definitely increase longevity, it isn’t on the usual list of medications for dogs. And as yet, most MDs are not comfortable prescribing it as an off label indication for longevity. If this is something you want to try, your best bet is to ask your own doctor about the advanced uses of metformin regarding metabolism and longevity, and see if he will give you a prescription that you can use for your dog.
Whether or not you decide to explore either of these options, remember to always give your dog a quality diet and active lifestyle. Both of these also play a role in giving your companion a longer and healthier life.