“Contentment is natural wealth, luxury is artificial poverty.” — Socrates.
Darwinian evolution has become outdated and its place is taken by the Lamarckian hypothesis of evolution by environmental compulsions. Darwin himself agreed with Lamarck but the neo-Darwinians, who have a big business interest in keeping the status quo, are at it even now. Even Erasmus was for environmental evolution long before Darwin came into the picture. Most of our pathophysiology of diseases is based on the Darwinian model unfortunately and it has to change for good. Earlier the better.
Daniel E Lieberman is an evolutionary biologist at Harvard. He has written a new book, The Story of the Human Body. I feel this is the right step in the right direction. Unfortunately, medical doctors do not go into evolutionary biology, even if a few of them go into biology. Poor patients have no access to evolutionary biologists. The result is that many of our lifestyle diseases have no clear cause known to the medical world. We are clever people, though. We cloak our ignorance is high-sounding Latin jargon. Words ‘idiopathic’ and the like simply tell us about our colossal ignorance. Even the use of steroids in many of the autoimmune diseases defies logic. They only palliate and the fire is still smouldering under steroid cover. The latter might even make the patient more vulnerable.
The Palaeolithic man is yet to fully evolve to match the much more evolved cultural evolution in the last 200 years. That might take a hundred more years. Thanks to technological advances, life on earth for the so-called civilised man has become vastly different from what it should have been had we just followed the environmental evolution that our ancestors in the Palaeolithic period have achieved. So there is a vast difference between the rate of natural evolution of man and the rapidly evolving cultural evolution that has happened in the society we live in.
One example will suffice. What our ancestors ate and what chimpanzees eat today compared to what we eat in the so-called modern society are poles apart. While most of us have developed a sweet tooth eating lots of sweet foods and refined carbohydrates, our ancestors in the forest were eating very little sweet food. Even today, chimpanzees eat raw food with the best fruit that they eat in the forest being less sweet than carrot! Our need for sweet foods and carbs was necessitated by the demand for more calories to cope with the cultural evolution which has gone much faster than the human body’s evolution.
Lieberman has convincingly showed how many of our killer lifestyle diseases, which might even be called modern diseases like Type II diabetes, many cancers, heart attack, strokes, acid reflux, acne, anxiety, asthma, depression, flat feet, high blood pressure, irritable bowel syndrome, lower backpain and osteoporosis have their origins in this evolution-cultural growth mismatch.
Over thousands of years in evolution the human body has acquired a survival mechanism to protect us from our predators. The autonomic nervous system and the RAAS (renin angiotensin aldosterone system) have evolved to keep us alive under stress which is an integral part of life in the hostile environment. These two are useful in any emergency for the fight, flight and fright reaction.
If a man sees a tiger approaching him in the forest he must try to run away. The above mentioned two systems are there to help him run away from the wrath of the angry tiger. Adrenaline and cortisol are the two hormones through which the two systems keep one away from danger. Such a Palaeolithic body today is placed in a very hostile modern society of monetary economy and technologically advanced society where life has got itself transformed into a heartless, cruel rat race.
Our greatest stress today is to acquire mundane things. In that rat race where the world is too much with us we spend most of our energy getting and spending. We have no time to see the good things in nature that give us tranquillity and pleasure. We seem to have sold our soul to the devil. It is a sordid boon. In this rat race we encounter many tigers in life. Our Palaeolithic body produces the same fight-flight response producing adrenaline and cortisol. The latter would be used to run away from the forest tiger in our Palaeolithic age. But the tigers in life today (stresses) do not let you expend the two hormones by running.
The hormones that thus accumulate in the system are the cause of most of the killer diseases. While this is the leading mismatch, there is another equally important mismatch in that our cultural evolution vis-à-vis our biological evolution leaves us today much more sedentary than our ancestors who had to trek miles daily to get their next meal. We hardly move around as the technological comforts have brought everything to our global village. Some of us use our vehicles even to go to the toilet. This compounds the stress hormone damage, causing more grievous injury to our systems.
Although technological advances make life “comfortable,” they do damage our system, causing killer diseases in the bargain. The technological feats add thousands of cancer-producing chemicals to our surroundings adding insult to injury. The bad “Hygiene Hypothesis” or the Germ Theory of disease made all our friends and close relatives, trillions of germs, into our enemies to be destroyed. The antibiotics and antiseptics have started killing us now instead.
Our cultural evolution has been only external without a concurrent internal development to understand the meaning of life on earth and our societal obligations. This self-ignorance leads to more stress in life. Most of us try and change the world to suit our convenience little realising that we should, on the contrary, change ourselves to suit the world to have less stress.
In The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health and Disease, Lieberman traces these troubles back to their origins.
This seems to be a more plausible explanation for many of our idiopathic diseases. My own hypothesis of the origin of the many autoimmune diseases has its root in our mind. Whereas every cell in the human body, of which there are more than one hundred trillion in all, loves one another and also the cells of others in the world, our hostility towards fellow human beings confuses our cells. If that mental attitude deepens further into a trait, a time will come when our own cells start hating our other cells, auto-immune disease. I call this the you-me concept.
Let us try and understand human illness in its entirety and try to achieve Whole Person Healing, the future hope for mankind on this planet.
“During moments of strife and ‘dis-ease’, check your flow and redirect your focus to that which is naturally good.” — T.F. Hodge
(The writer is a cardiologist and former Vice-Chancellor, Manipal University. Email: hegdebm @gmail.com)