Does evolution apply to human health? Why do we so conveniently forget about the evolutionary process when evaluating 21st century health and disease? I mean, I know modern medical science is familiar with the concept, so why throw out evolutionary reason when analyzing today’s health issues?
Well here comes a branch of medicine, known as Darwinian medicine, dedicated to applying reason to rationale. Darwinian medicine is not your typical Cartesian philosophy–the one that says the human body is simply a machine, with various parts and systems, much like a clock; and that all processes can be understood by breaking the whole down to it’s most basic components–but instead see the human body as evolving through time to environmental factors the way all living organisms do.
A key area of focus in Darwinian medicine is the emergence of modern epidemics like asthma and obesity–modern diseases resulting from changes in the environment which our bodies cannot evolve quickly enough to. And these rapid changes in our environment can also be the result of human activity, and even caused by efforts to eradicate other diseases.
According to Randolph Nesse, a pioneer in the field from the University of Michigan states, “The epidemic of asthma worldwide may be directly related to our very effective world health efforts to eliminate worms from people.”
Another scientist explains that improved standards of hygiene could explain why societies in the rich world have become more susceptible to asthma, to allergies and to auto-immune diseases. Our push to eradicate diseases, and especially our attempt to protect ourselves via vaccination might be one cause of lowered resistance to some illnesses. Humans in less developed, poorer societies, “where parasites and microbial infections are high,” have lower instances of such ailments, Barnes said.
I’ve been pushing this idea since I started this blog, especially as it relates to the influenza virus and accompanying vaccine. If the influenza virus is rapidly mutating–that is, changing it’s makeup every year–doesn’t make sense just to encounter it and develop natural immunity? I mean it isn’t tuberculosis, for heaven’s sake. Yes, flu kills people–so do aligators. It’s not like we haven’t evolved in a way to outrun those grisly gators. This is true for microorganisms to. They have been around for milennea, and they’ll keep evolving. As living organisms, human beings need to keep up with the times, too.