We are all animals. It’s a fact that may be unsettling for some, but for others it is a fountain of understanding and of inspiration. Since 1859, thanks to Charles Darwin, our place in the animal world has been firmly established. Yet, to this day, it is all too common within medicine (and nutrition) to have the tendency to develop a narrow-mindedness about ourselves that disconnects us from the natural world. Rarely do medical doctors ever look beyond, to other animals, for a broader perspective about their fields. As the veterinarian insider joke goes, “What do you call a physician? A veterinarian who can only treat one species.”
This is where zoobiquity (a different, zoobiquitous approach to medicine) comes in.
What is zoobiquity? When a story of how two obese Alaskan grizzlies lost hundreds of pounds helps inform nutritionists about how they might advise their human patients on weight management, you could say that is an example of zoobiquity. When a psychiatrist finds she is able to kindly comfort a patient diagnosed with anorexia by pointing out that an eating disorder is nothing ashamed of and that, in fact, it is quite common across several species, that’s zoobiquity. And, when a veterinarian oncologist and human oncologist come together to discuss the similarities of their animal and human patients and share data in an effort to improve medical outcomes of their patients, that’s zoobiquity.
The term, a merge of the words “zoo” and “ubiquity,” was coined by UCLA cardiology professor Barbara Natterson-Horowitz, M.D., and science journalist Kathryn Bowers as a way to describe their call for a coming together of three scientific fields: human medicine, veterinary medicine, and evolutionary biology. The duo also used the word as the title of their book, Zoobiquity: The Astonishing Connection Between Human and Animal Health, the paperback version of which has just gone on sale today. I highly recommend you purchase a copy to read even if you are not necessarily interested in medicine; the book is still worth the read because of what Bowers calls “cocktail party fodder.”
In the book, for example, you’ll learn all sorts of interesting facts: that dinosaurs also suffered from cancer, that fish faint, that horses suffer from sexual dysfunction, that all sorts of wild animals can at times develop eating disorders or overeat and become obese, that koalas suffer from chlamydia, that birds self-injure, and that wallabies get stoned. A passage that best sums up the message of the book is this one about breast cancer resulting from a genetic mutation of the BRCA1 genes that is shared among different species: “When it comes to breast cancer, a jaguar originating in South America and an English springer spaniel in Sweden might be medically more relevant to an Ashkenazi Jewish woman than her next-door neighbor is.” Continue reading “Why we should adopt a “zoobiquitous” approach to health”