Summer 2008, Volume 1, Issue 2
“A three-year study by the Baker Medical Research Institute involving over 5000 participants showed that pet owners had lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels than non-pet owners, even after smoking, weight, and socioeconomic levels were taken into consideration.”

FEATURED ARTICLES:

Editor's Log: Open Mind »

Integrative Pain Management: Interview with James Dillard, DC, MD, CAc »

Vegetables and Fruits: A Rare Case of Unanimous Agreement Among Experts »

Comparing Health Paradigms: Interview with Claire Cassidy, PhD, LAc »

Health Benefits of Companion Animals

Tobacco: Public Health Enemy #1 »

Understanding Yoga »

Health News

The Daily HIT Blog

Health Benefits of Companion Animals
Lulu, a pot-bellied pig, saved her owner’s life after the woman had suffered a heart attack. She exited the house through a dog door, opened a secured gate and made her way to the street where she lay in front of a car. She then led its puzzled driver back to her home where he found Lulu’s guardian collapsed on the floor, at which time he alerted the medics. Lulu is a prime example of the many stories where animals save the lives of their owners.1

The Human-Animal Bond
Sharing your life with an animal can enhance your health and well-being in many ways. Evidence of the benefits given to us by our animal companions is quite compelling.

Humans have had companion animals for thousands of years. But why? Something about animals attracted us to them and caused us to seek out and enjoy their company. Acknowledgment of the health benefits of animal companionship can be traced back to 1790s England when animals were brought in to help mental patients.2 In the mid-1940s, pigs, cattle, horses, and poultry helped many World War II veterans at an Army Air Corps Convalescent Hospital who had suffered mental trauma during the war.2

Beginning in the 1960s and continuing today, scientists have studied the effects of animals on human health.3 Most recent research has focused on cardiovascular benefits, alerts about health emergencies, and effects on the health and well-being of children and the elderly.

Cardiovascular and Stress Benefits
In the United States, the first and third leading causes of death—heart disease and hypertension—are cardiovascular in nature.4 High blood pressure, high cholesterol, high triglyceride levels, and the many adverse effects of sedentary lifestyles have reached epidemic levels. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, animal companionship can improve all these problem areas.5 A three-year study by the Baker Medical Research Institute involving over 5000 participants showed that pet owners had lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels than non-pet owners, even after smoking, weight, and socioeconomic levels were taken into consideration.6 In a related study, Erika Friedmann, PhD, of the University of Maryland School of Nursing, found that pet owners who experienced heart attacks had increased one-year survival rates compared to those without animal companionship.3

The presence of animals also has a positive effect on people’s reactions to stress. Investigators at the State University of New York at Buffalo found that patients with hypertension who owned pets had lower blood pressure levels when put in stressful situations.6 Animals’ apparent ability to decrease their owners’ spikes in blood pressure and heart rate due to stress (as measured in New York stockbrokers and children undergoing physical examinations) appears to be more effective than taking ACE–inhibiting medications (which dilate blood vessels, thus lowering blood pressure).7,8 These effects are not limited to cats and dogs; similar decreases in stress have been seen in people caring for parakeets and hamsters, or even staring at fish in an aquarium.9,21

Healing Effects of Laughter

Author Christina Hering with companions
My dogs and cat can be quite a handful, in a good way. Not a day goes by when my fiancé and I are not relieved to come home and spend time with them. And not a day goes by without at least one of them getting involved in some antic that gives us great cause for laughter. Laughter, in turn, has beneficial effects on heart health. In a study at the University of Maryland Medical Center, a group led by Michael Miller, MD, at the Center of Preventive Cardiology concluded that laughter can indeed be the “best medicine” for the heart. Miller’s study, the first to indicate that laughter helps prevent heart disease, found that people with heart disease were 40 percent less likely to laugh in a variety of situations compared to people the same age without heart disease.10