Dogs lower blood pressure, dammit
A couple of Psychology Today bloggers are arguing over whether dogs can indeed soothe the savage breast — or at least help keep the heart that’s ticking inside of it from imploding.
We’re not a scientist — we’re not even a we – but it’s our firm belief that dogs lower blood pressure, unlike blogs, which raise it.
So, in our view, Alex Korb and Hal Herzog, the dueling bloggers, would both be better off, healthwise, to quit looking up and reciting old studies and spend that time bonding with dogs.
Korb, a postdoctoral researcher at UCLA and a scientific consultant for BrainSonix, says scientific studies have clearly shown dogs are good for the human heart — not just in mushy romantic terms, but the actual pump itself, and all the conduits leading to and from it.
Herzog, a professor of psychology at Western Carolina University and author of “Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It’s So Hard To Think Straight About Animals,” says no they haven’t — at least not with any consistency.
Scientific studies, we will point out here, are like courtroom experts — you can usually find one that supports your cause (and, if not, you can always fund one).
We think studies have produced piles of evidence on the health benefits of dogs; we think further that — while such studies are important — they don’t tell us dog owners anything we don’t already know.
Studies have looked at how simply petting a dog can lower blood pressure, and how it can also lead to increased production of oxytocin, sometimes called the “love hormone.”
But I think it goes far beyond petting. Playing with a dog, observing a dog at play, even watching a dog peacefully snoozing, all do the same, I’d bet. And I’d suspect eye contact is even a bigger factor. When Ace looks into my eyes, I can sense my blood pressure dropping. I can almost feel the oxytocin gurgling through my .. whatever it is oxytocin gurgles through.
On his Psychology Today blog, “Pre-frontal Nudity” Korb cites several studies showing dogs reduce the likelihood of death by a second heart attack, lower blood pressure and prompt us to produce oxytocin.
Korb points out that rats produce oxytocin when they are licked by their mothers, and that rats that are licked a lot grow up to be more well adjusted rats — or at least less anxious and stressed.
“Oxytocin works similarly in humans, and while it may be particularly necessary in childhood, even during adulthood it is important. Oxytocin is released by physical touch (hugs, kisses, handshakes, massages, breast-feeding … that sort of thing), and possibly even through social interaction.
“Humans are social animals. So I guess it’s not that surprising that having support from other humans, and other animals, has positive health benefits. Hopefully you also take away from this article the fact that there is not always a clear divide between physical health and mental health.”
I’d add to that maybe there’s not such a clear divide, either, between the mushy romantic heart and the actual pump mechanism — that maybe what keeps the metaphoric one happy and content, also keeps the real one pumping.
“So if you have a heart attack, reach for your poodle,” Korb concludes. “Well, reach for the phone first (or your LifeAlert), then maybe reach for the aspirin, then reach for the poodle.”
Herzog doesn’t see it that way. ”It’s a nice tight package – just the sort of science writing that makes for a good Psychology Today blog post,” he writes in ”Animals and Us,” his blog for Psychology Today. ”The only problem is that the story is a little too good to be true.”
Herzog goes on to cite studies that found conflicting, and sometimes opposite results, and concludes that the evidence is not conclusive.
“The $50 billion dollar pet products industry wants you to believe that playing with a dog or cat will ward off depression, cure autism, and cause you to lose weight. Unfortunately, the evidence for these claims is not nearly as strong as “the pet industrial complex” would have you believe.
As for oxytocin, he adds, while a South African study showed impressive increases in oxytocin of subjects who had engaged in petting sessions (with dogs), other neurochemicals also spiked during tests of the subjects.
“Who is to say oxytocin was the critical hormone, rather than, say, dopamine or endorphin – neurotransmitters which are also associated with pleasure and reward?
“… The fact is that many studies of the positive effects of pets on people do not pass the replication test. Further, pop science writers (of which I am one) are often guilty of only covering the good stuff when it comes to the animals in our lives.
“So you might want to dig a little deeper the next time you read that playing with a poodle will unclog your arteries and heal a broken heart.”
Posted by jwoestendiek May 22nd, 2012 under Muttsblog.
Tags: alex korb, animals, animals and us, benefits, blog, bloggers, blogging, blood pressure, debate, dogs, hal herzog, health, heart, licking, love hormone, oxytocin, pets, pre-frontal nudity, psychology today, rats, science, scientific, studies, study