Evolutionary medicine is a relatively new approach to disease prevention and health care that recognizes the importance of our evolutionary past in understanding how we live and how we get sick.
It’s an approach that combines insights from evolutionary biology, ecology, and human genetics with modern medical research to provide a complete picture of our current health dilemmas. It’s also the fastest-growing area of medical research, with new insights emerging. This article explores some of the key research areas and what it means for us as future patients and doctors.
What is evolutionary medicine?
Modern medicine is often criticized for curing the disease rather than preventing it. The conventional medical approach to disease prevention has been reactive and largely ineffective. It typically involves taking measures after people are already sick or injured, usually intending to prevent complications that could lead to death if not addressed early on.
But evolutionary medicine takes a different approach by looking at our human past – from the environment in which we evolved to the various pressures of our ancestral lifestyles – to understand better how modern humans get sick and how we might be able to avoid getting sick in the future.
It’s a new field of research that focuses on understanding the underlying causes of disease to help us live healthier lives now and into the future.
How does evolutionary medicine work?
Evolutionary medicine is a field that bridges the gap between medicine, ecology, and evolutionary biology. It recognizes the importance of the ways our physiology and disease resistance have evolved over time in response to environmental pressures like food scarcity or pathogenic infection.
It’s important to note that “evolutionary” doesn’t mean “primitive” when applied to humans. We are still evolving; we happen to be particularly good at it since we have been doing it for so long. Our bodies have developed in response to our environment for millions of years; this is called adaptive evolution.
The fast rate of change in modern society has increased the negative impact of those changes on our bodies. Still, can address many of these changes by looking back at how people lived before they were modern humans (in other words, looking at what our ancestors did). As such, evolutionary medicine may offer insights into how modern humans can better deal with changes in their environment by looking back at what previous generations had to do to adapt.
What do we know now?
Humans have evolved to survive in a very different manner from our pre-human ancestors. With the evolution of modern medicine, we’ve come to depend on antibiotics and vaccinations for protection against pathogens, but these are no longer as effective.
To understand this better, we need to go back in time.
Evolutionary medicine has provided new insights into how the human genome has changed over time. And it’s not just our genes that have changed in response to disease – it’s also our microbiome (the trillions of microorganisms living inside us) and even how our immune system responds to various infections and other types of stressors.
In understanding how humans have evolved, one can better understand what might happen if we change our lifestyles or diet. For example, reducing meat consumption could cause illness due to insufficient protein intake.
This knowledge has implications for research related to dietary needs and health care choices across the globe.
Future of evolutionary medicine in healthcare
As a new type of medicine, evolutionary medicine has the potential to take healthcare in directions that we can only imagine. A few key research areas in this field include the impact of diet on our health, drug resistance, and infectious diseases. For example, in an age where antibiotic-resistant bacteria are on the rise, knowing how we evolved with pathogens over time could be key to our survival.
The future of evolutionary medicine is still being written, and it is far too early to say what it will look like or how it will change our healthcare system. However, incorporating insights from human evolution into our modern knowledge base is an important step forward that could have major impacts on medical research and public health interventions like vaccination.
A better understanding of health, disease, and prevention is the future of medicine. We need to adopt a new perspective and start looking at wellness and health as dynamic systems affected by a person’s genetic, clinical, psychological, social, cultural, and environmental factors. One of the most promising new ways to do this is by drawing from the principles of evolutionary medicine.