Massive New Study Shows How Dogs Boost Human Health

One type of dog in particular is linked with the lowest rates of cardiovascular disease in their human pals.

A girls running through the park with her dog. Photo: Matt Cardy/Getty Images
Photo: Matt Cardy/Getty Images


We’ll never know the first human to call a dog his best friend. Nearly 15,000 years ago dogs were buried next to humans; our canine pals were on the hunting-gathering circuit with us. By the time we settled into cities they were willing allies, given the bonds forged by then. As in any relationship, we give a little and take a little. 

Apparently we’re taking even more than we thought, according to new research published in Scientific Reports. Dog owners who live alone are 36 percent less likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease than non-dog owners, while multiple-person households enjoy a 15 percent decrease in heart problems. 

This is no small-scale study. A team led by Mwenya Mubanga, who works in the Department of Medical Sciences in Molecular Epidemiology and Science for Life Laboratory at Uppsala University, analyzed medical records from more than 3.4 million residents in Sweden. They compared those records against pet ownership records, as well as self-reported health and lifestyle habits from over 34,000 citizens. 

The group the team ended up focusing on included people between ages 40 and 80, with a mean average of 57, of which 13 percent were dog owners. Since cardiovascular disease accounted for 45 percent of all deaths in Europe in 2016, researchers searched for a correlation between dog ownership and rates of heart problems. In their words: 

Dogs may be beneficial in reducing cardiovascular risk by providing a non-human form of social support and increasing physical activity. Dog ownership has been reported to be associated with alleviation of social isolation and improved perception of wellbeing, particularly in single persons and the elderly. 

Interestingly, people who own hunting dogs, such as terriers and retrievers, experience the lowest rates of cardiovascular disease. The exact link is unknown. Active people could choose these dogs to work out with more often, or those dogs might inspire people to start running up mountains and across fields. Given the amount of time hunting dogs need to run, it makes sense the human would be influenced as well. 

Correlation, of course, does not imply causation, a fact researchers are aware of. Yet beyond exercise they speculate that psychological comfort could be another important factor. Many studies have shown the negative effects of loneliness on a person; strong social networks—real, live ones, not online—are a necessary component of physical and mental health. This could be why rates of cardiovascular problems were markedly lower for those who live alone. The canine is truly their best friend. 

This makes sense, given that a 2015 study discovered that extended eye contact releases oxytocin in the brains of both dogs and humans. We’ve even evolved together biologically, with genes for digestion, metabolism, neurological processes, and cancers occurring in dogs and humans simultaneously. 

According to the ASPCA, 6.5 million companion animals enter shelters every year in America, with dogs slightly edging out cats in number. Of that pool, 670,000 dogs and 860,000 cats are euthanized. While those numbers are fortunately down since 2011, that’s still a startlingly large number of animals who can’t find homes. Given the health benefits to humans, it’s a perfect season to visit a shelter. Your heart will thank you for it. 


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Derek is the author of Whole Motion: Training Your Brain and Body For Optimal Health. Based in Los Angeles, he is working on a new book about spiritual consumerism. Stay in touch on Facebook and Twitter.

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CRISPR therapy cures first genetic disorder inside the body

It marks a breakthrough in using gene editing to treat diseases.

Credit: National Cancer Institute via Unsplash
Technology & Innovation

This article was originally published by our sister site, Freethink.

For the first time, researchers appear to have effectively treated a genetic disorder by directly injecting a CRISPR therapy into patients' bloodstreams — overcoming one of the biggest hurdles to curing diseases with the gene editing technology.

The therapy appears to be astonishingly effective, editing nearly every cell in the liver to stop a disease-causing mutation.

The challenge: CRISPR gives us the ability to correct genetic mutations, and given that such mutations are responsible for more than 6,000 human diseases, the tech has the potential to dramatically improve human health.

One way to use CRISPR to treat diseases is to remove affected cells from a patient, edit out the mutation in the lab, and place the cells back in the body to replicate — that's how one team functionally cured people with the blood disorder sickle cell anemia, editing and then infusing bone marrow cells.

Bone marrow is a special case, though, and many mutations cause disease in organs that are harder to fix.

Another option is to insert the CRISPR system itself into the body so that it can make edits directly in the affected organs (that's only been attempted once, in an ongoing study in which people had a CRISPR therapy injected into their eyes to treat a rare vision disorder).

Injecting a CRISPR therapy right into the bloodstream has been a problem, though, because the therapy has to find the right cells to edit. An inherited mutation will be in the DNA of every cell of your body, but if it only causes disease in the liver, you don't want your therapy being used up in the pancreas or kidneys.

A new CRISPR therapy: Now, researchers from Intellia Therapeutics and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals have demonstrated for the first time that a CRISPR therapy delivered into the bloodstream can travel to desired tissues to make edits.

We can overcome one of the biggest challenges with applying CRISPR clinically.

—JENNIFER DOUDNA

"This is a major milestone for patients," Jennifer Doudna, co-developer of CRISPR, who wasn't involved in the trial, told NPR.

"While these are early data, they show us that we can overcome one of the biggest challenges with applying CRISPR clinically so far, which is being able to deliver it systemically and get it to the right place," she continued.

What they did: During a phase 1 clinical trial, Intellia researchers injected a CRISPR therapy dubbed NTLA-2001 into the bloodstreams of six people with a rare, potentially fatal genetic disorder called transthyretin amyloidosis.

The livers of people with transthyretin amyloidosis produce a destructive protein, and the CRISPR therapy was designed to target the gene that makes the protein and halt its production. After just one injection of NTLA-2001, the three patients given a higher dose saw their levels of the protein drop by 80% to 96%.

A better option: The CRISPR therapy produced only mild adverse effects and did lower the protein levels, but we don't know yet if the effect will be permanent. It'll also be a few months before we know if the therapy can alleviate the symptoms of transthyretin amyloidosis.

This is a wonderful day for the future of gene-editing as a medicine.

—FYODOR URNOV

If everything goes as hoped, though, NTLA-2001 could one day offer a better treatment option for transthyretin amyloidosis than a currently approved medication, patisiran, which only reduces toxic protein levels by 81% and must be injected regularly.

Looking ahead: Even more exciting than NTLA-2001's potential impact on transthyretin amyloidosis, though, is the knowledge that we may be able to use CRISPR injections to treat other genetic disorders that are difficult to target directly, such as heart or brain diseases.

"This is a wonderful day for the future of gene-editing as a medicine," Fyodor Urnov, a UC Berkeley professor of genetics, who wasn't involved in the trial, told NPR. "We as a species are watching this remarkable new show called: our gene-edited future."

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