zoology biology benno meyer rochow science blog heart

Monkey Business

Overworked and Overexcited: Heart Attack

Many a human life is claimed by a heart attack. Heart attacks are some of the main causes of premature deaths. Job and family-related stresses are implicated; genetic disposition, social habits and diets are held responsible and even a “broken heart” (as I know from personal experience) can affect your life-sustaining pump in a bad way. How? There is in the brain an almond-sized structure called the amygdala. That structure is the seat of strong emotions like fear, pleasure and sadness. Constant activation of the amygdala, let’s say by an intense feeling of disappointment, leads to an increased risk of cardiac vascular dysfunction or disease, which can ultimately lead to someone “dying of a broken heart”.

But what about fatal heart conditions in other mammals or birds? Undoubtedly the struggle for survival, the fighting for dominance, the search for food or a partner to mate with, finally the job of finding shelter and looking after the young, all these are stressful activities. Heart attacks have, indeed, been reported – and not only from hogs on their way to the slaughterhouse or the overfed and underexercised family pet, but from wild animals as well.
Spontaneous genetic heart abnormalities do, of course, occasionally occur in all species. But they usually impair the survival chances of the unfortunate victim to such an extent that it will not reach sexual maturity and, thus, pass on the defect. Migratory birds, striking bad weather, and only just making it to the safety of an island or the seashore after crossing open water, can collapse with a heart attack and die. Those that do survive may take a convalescence rest of two to three weeks before continuing their journey.

Another interesting observation comes from baboons. According to Dr Horvath, if the boss of a troop of baboons was caught and put in a cage so that he could no longer physically interfere in the social organization of the troop, but only look, gesticulate and scream, his formerly fearful and obedient subjects would quickly learn to enjoy their new “freedom from tyranny and suppression”. The ultimate insult to the now powerless despot seemed to be when previously subordinate males, who were never given an opportunity to mate, copulated with their former boss’ females, right in front of his eyes. On witnessing such disrespect, the caged former ruler could get so furiously enraged and upset that he would suffer a heart attack. Or would “a broken heart” not have been the more appropriate term?
In any case, harem-owning elephant seal and sea lion males in order to keep their positions and their many “wives” are usually so stressed and overworked that they are in an “alpha male” position (i.e., the boss) for only one season and then lose their position. This may dent their self-esteem, but it probably saves their lives as it reduces stress and, thus, the risk of troubles with the heart. Isn’t this again something us humans can learn from the animals?

heart hormone meyer rochow

Learn more about the heart here!

© Dr V.B. Meyer-Rochow and http://www.bioforthebiobuff.wordpress.com, 2017.
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to V.B Meyer-Rochow and http://www.bioforthebiobuff.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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