Zoobiquity | Barbara Natterson-Horowitz

Summary of: Zoobiquity: The Astonishing Connection Between Human and Animal Health
By: Barbara Natterson-Horowitz


Welcome to the intriguing world of Zoobiquity, where the line between human and animal health blurs, revealing profound insights on both sides. In this fascinating journey, Barbara Natterson-Horowitz showcases the deep genetic and biological connections between humans and animals, stressing the importance of collaboration between physicians and veterinarians. Prepare to explore topics such as fainting, cardiac issues, obesity, grooming, risk-taking, mating, cancer, and addiction as they manifest in both humans and animals. By understanding the astonishing connections between our health and the health of the non-human beings that share our world, we can uncover valuable information on preventing and treating diseases alike.

Our Genetic Similarities with Animals

The book explores the genetic similarities between humans and animals, termed as deep homology, that go beyond closely related species. The author shares a historical account of how physicians and veterinarians used to collaborate centuries ago and how the dividing line between the two professions is slowly being weakened. Highlighting the importance of collaboration between veterinary and medical researchers, the book proposes that further investigations could lead to a better understanding of human and animal biology. The author also takes a closer look at some astonishing similarities in both behaviors and the way diseases affect our bodies that we share with animals. The book emphasizes that genetic similarities between humans and animals run profoundly deep and raises vital questions that encourage readers to observe and ponder about the natural world around them.

Fainting – It’s More Common Than You Think

Fainting is a normal occurrence and affects one in three adults. It is usually caused by a temporary shortage of blood and oxygen in the brain, which may happen when one stands up too quickly or has a strong emotional reaction. Fainting can also be found in some animals, and it can serve as a vital protection mechanism. When animals faint, it usually lowers their heart rate, making them less likely to be detected by predators. It is likely that fainting evolved in humans for the same reason it evolved in animals – it may have helped our ancestors survive.

The Heartbreaking Cost of Intense Emotions

Intense emotions can have dangerous effects on the human heart, even leading to sudden cardiac death. This condition is often triggered by stress and fear, as seen after 9/11. Similarly, animals can suffer from a similar condition called capture myopathy, where sudden death occurs after being captured or relocated. Deer, elk, and reindeer in North America have a 20% mortality rate from capture myopathy. In the same vein as sudden cardiac death, capture myopathy is caused by intense emotions or prolonged stress. One zoo in Vancouver saw four zebras die from capture myopathy due to prolonged stress from being kept in the same enclosure as two buffalo. These occurrences remind us of the importance of being mindful of our own emotional health and that of others.

Obesity and Gut Flora

Our intestines contain microbes known as gut flora that help break down our food and have an effect on our weight. Researchers found that obese people have more firmicutes while lean people have more bacteroidetes. These microbes extract calories more effectively, explaining why some people can eat more without gaining weight. Antibiotics given to livestock also change gut flora, causing an increase in calorie-extracting microbes and leading to weight gain. Further research on the relationship between microbes and obesity may lead to important discoveries.

The Science of Grooming

Grooming is a significant activity in the lives of animals and humans. It serves as a social activity for primates and helps in strengthening social bonds. Grooming also releases opiate into the bloodstream, which calms our mind and reduces blood pressure. However, over-grooming can be dangerous and lead to dysfunctional behavior, as seen in humans’ self-injury and animals’ excessive licking or pulling feathers. Understanding over-grooming as a cyclical release-and-relief pattern can help comprehend and manage such behavior in both humans and animals.

Adolescent Risk-taking

Adolescents tend to take more risks than adults, as seen in the behavior of sea otters and gazelles. While this behavior may seem reckless, it helps them develop skills in recognizing predators and determining the social hierarchy within their groups. However, this impulsivity can also lead to increased chances of fatality, as observed in the high rate of traffic accidents among teenagers. Furthermore, bullying is also used by impulsive adolescents to establish their place in the social hierarchy. Understanding the reasons behind adolescent risk-taking can help us better support and guide them during this phase of development.

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