Monday, April 7, 2008

Monkeying Around with Heart Disease

As one of the leading causes of death, heart disease is obviously a concern if you are a human. Our cousins, the Great Apes, are also having issues with heart disease. In a recent news article (here), zoo staff were stunned when an apparently healthy gorilla in the prime of his life dropped dead. But Mopie from the National Zoo in Washington isn't the only gorilla dead or ill due to heart disease...

"Gorillas in zoos around the nation, particularly males and those in their 20s and 30s, have been falling ill - and sometimes dying suddenly - from progressive heart ailments ranging from aneurisms to valvular disease to cardiomyopathy.

Just two months before the deaths at the National Zoo, the San Francisco Zoo had lost a lowland gorilla named Pogo to heart disease. A week before that, the Memphis Zoo lost one named Tumai the same way. And in previous years, there were others: Akbar at the Toledo Zoo in 2005, and in 2000 both Sam at the Knoxville Zoo and Michael at the Gorilla Foundation in California.

Now zookeepers are scrambling to understand what factors may be causing the illnesses and what might be done to save the 368 lowland gorillas that currently reside in 52 zoos across North America.

A 1994 study of 74 captive gorilla deaths, published by veterinarians Tom Meehan of the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago and Linda Lowenstine of the University of California at Davis, found that 41 percent - and 70 percent of males older than 30 - were from heart disease, mainly fibrosing cardiomyopathy."

When I read this article, my first question was "What are these gorillas eating?" Since I researched pet food to help my obese cat, I knew that companies that manufacture cat and dog food sometimes make "monkey chow". It took me less than five minutes to find clues to the possible cause for heart diseases in Great Apes.

The Brookfield Zoo posts on their website what the ape's natural diet is along with what they are feeding the apes...

"Wild diet: fruit, leaves, stems, vines, and shoots

Brookfield Zoo diet: monkey chow, apples, oranges, bananas, grapes, sweet potatoes, carrots, onions, green beans, spinach, lettuce, kale, escarole, romaine, parsley."

The Philadelphia Zoo also lists their primate diet information on their website and they have 40% of their ape's diet being "primate biscuits".

A quick check of the ingredients of Monkey Chow and the primate biscuits put up HUGE red flags...

ZuPreem ® Primate Diet Dry

From the manufacturer: It is not necessary to provide a supplemental source of vitamin C with this diet, if the diet is fed within one year of the date of manufacture. It is also not necessary to supplement this diet with fruits or vegetables that may upset the balance of the diet.

Ingredients: Ground corn, Soybean meal, Cracked wheat, Sucrose, Wheat germ meal, Animal fat (preserved with BHA, propyl gallate and citric acid), Dried whole egg, Dicalcium phosphate, Calcium carbonate, Iodized salt, Vegetable oil, etc...

Mazuri® Primate Brown Biscuit

Ingredients: Ground Corn, dehulled soybean meal, dried beet pulp, sucrose, corn gluten meal, ground aspen, powdered cellulose, dried apple pomace, fructose, calcium carbonate, soybeab oil, flaxseed, etc....

I can't say for sure at this point the dry primate food is the exact cause since I have no way of telling what each individual zoo is feeding their apes. However, when a primary food for these creatures is based on CORN, WHEAT, SUGAR AND SOY (and at least one manufacturer claims you don't need to add fresh fruits/veggies which may "upset" the balance of the diet), it is no surprise to me that heart disease is killing zoo apes.

Corn, wheat, sugar and soy are all carbohydrates and all turn to glucose in the blood stream. Gorillas did not evolve to eat these easily digestible carbohydrates. Of course, neither did humans, which is why so many people these days are getting fat, sick and end up on medication. In many cases, you can get off of diabetes medication, reverse heart disease, lower blood pressure and lose weight by eliminating carbohydrates and following a low carb diet. Has this been tried with zoo apes?

Most of these dry food ingredients do not even grow in an ape's natural habitat. Is feeding them foods they did not evolve to eat a good idea? The REALLY scary thing is the monkey chow ingredients look a lot like the nutrition label from a typical American breakfast cereal! What is a diet high in grains doing for humans? The "obesity crisis" pretty much answers that one.

"My heart hurts, and I don't understand why I can't lose weight!"

Obesity among zoo primates is also an issue, and obesity, heart disease and diabetes often come as a package deal.

"Two main problems with zoo animals include obesity and diabetes. Orangutans typically eat fruits and leaves in nature, and very little animal matter. The leaves and fruits they consume are drier, contain less sugar, and much more fiber than our "store-bought" fruits. Some of the zoo problems may be associated with diets that are too easily digested, along with not enough exercise or activity in obtaining foods. See, they have the same problems as many humans!"

So our cousins are experiencing the same health problems we are and I am guessing that the cause is the same...eating foods they did not evolve to eat and basing their diet on carbohydrates that are too rapidly digested. I think it will be a bit of a race to see who admits that carbs can be dangerous to health first...the zoo community or the medical community. Hopefully human AND non-human primates will finally start getting the information they need to protect their hearts and overall health.


Karen said...

I read many articles a couple of days ago when I stumbled onto that story. After a little bit of following links I did find that the zoo gorillas were actually living much longer than wild gorillas and were dying from naturally aged hearts. I do believe that a natural diet is best for the zoo animals but there may be much more to this story than biscuits.
The reason they didn't notice the aging signs is because gorillas will "put on a happy face" as to not alert the younger males to it's pain and deterioration.
The whole thing is very interesting and I'm glad you brought it up!
Karen B.

Wifezilla said...

If it wasn't for the other articles I read about diabetes in the zoo population and obesity becoming more a problem, I might think it was something else as well. But seeing the "high carb trifecta" of heart disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes, I strongly believe the zoo animals are experiencing the same issues that humans are and both are caused by the same thing...easily digestible carbohydrates and sugars.

Here is a quick article...

Karen said...

Oh, I agree completely. It's just that the heart disease that is killing the Gorillas is thought to be from advanced age, not diet as they are living much longer than in the wild. Although diet may certainly be found to be a contributing factor to the "strangeness" of the disease. (the changes in muscle structure they are finding)
I do agree that zoo animals are not treated or fed properly and that a low carb or "natural" diet is most likely much better for them (if there has to be zoos at all, that is).

Tracy said... it cheaper to feed them this Chow than to feed them, like, leaves and shoots and stuff? Why else would the zoos choose it over natural foods?

Makes me maaaaaaaaaad.

And you're right - the label does read like cereal. Cereal I used to eat!

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