What Are Phytochemicals and Does My Dog Need Them?

Phytochemicals, also sometimes referred to as phytonutrients or polyphenols are biologically active compounds of plant origin.  They are actually a plant’s natural defence.  Normally, the properties are activated by damage to the plant which prevent insects and pests from eating them.

A huge number of phytochemicals have been identified (8000+) and they are broadly classified as carotenoids and polyphenols but there are many further subdivisions.

The question on everyone’s tongue, does my dog need them?

Let’s take a look.


We are just starting to notice the health benefits of phytochemicals; buthey have been seen to:

  • Protect DNA from damage
  • Act as antioxidants
  • Regulate hormonal function
  • Support immune function
  • Possess antimicrobial properties

Phytochemicals and Inflammation

Inflammation is the first biological response of the immune system to infection, injury or irritation.  It is a necessary process, but it can sometimes get a little out of hand.  This is where phytochemicals come in.  Types of phytochemicals known as phenolics, and triterpenoids show high anti-inflammatory activity.  These compounds are found in various fruits and vegetables.

Findings Here

Phenolic compounds are also seen to have a range of other health benefits in the body.

It is thought that polyphenols may modulate blood glucose levels.  On study in humans found that those people eating higher quantities of polyphenol-rich foods were 57% less likely to develop type II diabetes in a 2–4-year period.

Findings Here

Polyphenols are seen to promote the growth of good bacteria in the gut, and also fend off the bad guys!  Win win!  It is also thought that polyphenols may help probiotics survive and thrive too!

Findings Here

They have also been associated with:

  • Delaying age-related cognitive decline
  • Modulating inflammation in the brain
  • Counteracting neurotoxins
  • Protecting neurons against oxidative stress
  • Enhanced memory and learning

Findings Here

Finally, researchers have found that certain polyphenols can modulate gene expression in cases of atopic dermatitis in dogs.  In short, the researchers managed to control the inflammatory response in dermatologic disease.

Findings Here

They used extracts of luteolin which is found in foods like broccoli, carrots, peppers, cabbage and apple skins along with extracts of stilbene which occurs in some berries like blueberries.

Other phytochemicals include sulforaphane and anthocyanins.

Sulforaphane is an isothiocyante stored mainly inside cruciferous veggies, like broccoli.  A great sulforaphane hack is to sprout your own broccoli seeds as these have way more sulphoraphane as the final plant.

This compound has been seen to have anticancer properties in test tube studies, it is thought to release antioxidant and detoxification enzymes that protect against carcinogens.

Sulforaphane is thought to support hearth health by reducing inflammation and also may reduce blood pressure.

In addition, this compound has been seen to improve recovery and reduce mental decline after traumatic brain injury.

Finally, sulforaphane has improved symptoms of constipation in humans in a 4-week study.

Findings Here

Anthocyanins (red, purple, and/or blue plant pigments) are found in many fruits but are thought to prevent the adhesion of pathogens to cell walls.  When compared to other berries, the photochemical bioavailability was much higher in cranberries as compared to others, which is why it is thought to prevent adhesion of pathogenic bacteria in the urinary tract.

Other Foods Which Contain Phytochemicals:

1) Pomegranate

Pomegranate has been seen to help protect cells, especially those heart cells.  Oxidative damage may be one of the contributors to heart failure in our canine companions and pomegranate has been seen to protect against this.  They contain molecules known as ellagitannins.  Pomegranate ellagitannins are not absorbed intact into the blood stream but are hydrolysed to ellagic acid over several hours in the intestine. Ellagitannins are also metabolized into urolithins by gut flora, and it is these urolithin A’s that exert anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

Findings Here

2) Ginger

Ginger is loved for its anti-inflammatory properties in cancer therapy.  Inflammation, or rather pro-inflammatory cytokines contribute to carcinogenesis by influencing the survival, growth, mutation, proliferation, differentiation and movement of tumour cells.  It is proposed that ginger has anti-inflammatory and therefore anticancer potential.

Ginger contains active phenolic compounds such as gingerol, paradol and shogoall that have antioxidant, anticancer, anti-inflammatory and anti-angiogenesis properties.

Ginger has demonstrated significant reductions in inflammatory signalling in cancer cases.

Findings Here

Not only that but in cases of liver cancer, it has induced apoptosis, inhibited formation, decreased expression and suppressed cell proliferation.  In cases of pancreatic cancer it has downregulated signalling and cell survival indicators, inhibited expression, decreases metastasis, inhibited cell proliferation and induced apoptosis.  Ginger has decreased incidence of colon tumours and it has been reported that intragastric treatment of ginger increases survival time.

Findings Here

Adjunct to other therapy, ginger has been seen to improve cellular immunity and decrease fatigue, pain and stress in cancer patients.  It is also noted to reduce nausea.

Ginger is widely used in traditional Chinese and Indian medicine, it is thought to stimulate digestion, absorption, relieve constipation and flatulence.  In Chinese medicine it is thought to improve the flow of bodily fluids and is therefore used to stimulate blood circulation.  The active compounds found reduce the formation of pro-inflammatory prostaglandins and thromboxane therefore lowering the clotting ability of the blood, it should therefore be used with caution alongside blood thinning medication.

3) Carrots

Carotenoid-containing foods are often red, yellow or orange and this includes the trust carrot.

Carotenoids are a class of phytonutrients and are found in the cells of a wide variety of plants, algae, and bacteria. They help plants absorb light energy for use in photosynthesis. They also have an important antioxidant function of deactivating free radicals which helps offset oxidative stress.

Does My Dog Need Antioxidants?

However, there is a number of factors that influence carotenoid’s bioavailability, absorption, breakdown, transport and storage.

In a number of studies, thermal treatment was shown to increase carotenoid’s accessibility, due to the disruption of cell walls and bond loosening (read: cooked)

Other factors, such as genes and nutritional status, gender, aging or infection, also determine carotenoid bioavailability.   It is well-established that any disease with the abnormal absorption of fat from the digestive tract significantly affects carotenoid incorporation. Furthermore, interactions with medications (e.g., sulfonamides used to treat bacterial infection) were shown to decrease the availability of β-carotene.

Findings Here

The bottom line is that phytochemicals posses a range of health benefits and they are found in a selection of fruits and vegetables.  It’s often best to opt for cooked veggies over raw to aid digestion and assimilation of nutrients.

If you’d like to know some of the top fruits and veggies we like to add to the bowl, check out the following blogs:

Our 21 Superfoods of 2021

Fresh Food to Add to the Bowl

Thanks for reading,

MPN Team  

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