Evolutionary Medicine is becoming more of a presence in medical discussions every day, but some may ask what the practical applications are.
Never fear. Here are 10 common uses of Evolutionary Medicine today.
Helping us understand how to think about symptoms. Much of what we consider to be unnecessary acts, like pain or nausea, are the body’s response to a threat, rather than a problem in and of themselves. We’re now learning that sometimes simply treating those symptoms can lead to more serious problems it prevents the immune system from doing its job.
Explaining anxiety disorders. At one point, the body’s reaction to stress helped it to survive a life-and-death situation in the wild. Through EM, we’re beginning to get a better understanding of how those same reactions have a very different effect today, where the main danger is a mean boss and not a lion attack.
The Caveman Diet. It’s possible that eating like our ancestors did may help prevent us from suffering from modern health problems of today, such as diabetes and obesity.
Antibiotic resistance. Darwinian Medicine has been instrumental in showing how pathogens can quickly develop strains resistant to existing treatment, with effects on both how antibiotics are made and how and when they are prescribed.
Cleanliness. As we’ve grown more focused on wiping off every scrap of dirt after a trip outside or using antibacterial soap after a handshake, EM is teaching us that we may also be harming our body’s immune system and its ability to fight infections. (But sorry, kid—you still have to take your bath.)
EM can explain what it can’t explain. For example, if the human body is always evolving, why haven’t we been able to do so in a way that eliminates cancer? It’s because adaptations have to be evolvable in the first place in order to occur. Since we can’t prevent the corruption of DNA, cancer can’t be eliminated solely by natural selection.
Importance of exercise. Our bodies evolved in the days where excessive sitting around probably meant illness or injury, so it metabolizes nutrients slower when we aren’t moving around. Your mom and your doctor are both right: Darwinian Medicine says you’ll look and feel better if you get off that couch and move around!
Understanding common illnesses. Why do so many of us need our wisdom teeth pulled? Or suffer common colds? Or get athletes’ foot? Because evolution isn’t designed to create perfection, but rather survival and reproduction. To reiterate:
The goal is survival, not health. Darwinian Medicine can’t be dismissed because your back hurts after you lifted that heavy piece of furniture without stretching. Evolution didn’t design everyone to be a machine, but to stay alive and warn us when we’re in danger. That sore back is nature’s way of saying “lift with your knees instead.”
Every trait is a trade-off. Evolutionary Medicine helps us understand that sometimes the body has evolved in a way that may have a positive effect in the short term but a negative one in the long term. That may not coincide with how we’d like to develop. Living forever might sound nice, but some of the properties in the body that might prevent aging have a beneficial effect in our younger days, when the danger posed by natural selection is greater. We have to take the good with the bad.
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