Spring 2018 True Natural Health  Magazine
Abridged and edited from an enews item, dated 17th July 2018, by Dr Karen Shaw Becker, integrative wellness veterinarian of Chicago USA. Email [email protected]


About 70 percent of captive adult male gorillas in North America suffer heart disease; it’s the leading cause of death among these gorillas. But in gorillas living in the wild, heart disease is virtually non-existent

In addition, other great apes, including orangutans, chimpanzees and bonobos, also suffer high rates of heart disease when in captivity. The problem has been known for decades, but zoo keepers haven’t known what to do about it.

When the first gorilla was brought to the Bronx Zoo in New York in 1911, she was fed meat, but, being primarily a herbivore, she refused it and died as a result within just two weeks. 

“The invention of processed, calorically dense ‘biscuits’ packed with vitamins and nutrients and supplemented with a few fruits and vegetables eventually helped standardise gorilla diets,” The Atlantic newspaper reported, “as well as lengthen the lifespans of captive gorillas.” But, much like standardised kibbles for cats and dogs, the biscuits still leave much to be desired compared to a wild gorilla’s diet, consisting of stems, bamboo shoots, fruits and the occasional termite nest.

Changes in gut bacteria have been noted in humans with heart disease, and suggests this may be the case in gorillas as well. After researchers analysed faeces from captive gorillas, they found significant differences in the bacterial composition between gorillas with and without heart disease.

Changes in these bacteria are associated with a variety of metabolic and autoimmune diseases in humans, so it stands to reason that this could occur in apes as well. One study on non-human primates revealed that captivity and loss of dietary fibre led to a loss of native gut microbiota and instead colonisation with bacteria common in the modern human gut microbiome.

These results demonstrate that captivity and lifestyle disruption cause primates to lose native microbiota, which would at least partly explain, as with humans, their development of heart disease.

Perhaps the stress of captivity would have a lot to do with it as well.