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Body by Darwin: How Evolution Shapes Our Health and Transforms Medicine

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We think of medical science and doctors as focused on treating conditions—whether it’s a cough or an aching back. But the sicknesses and complaints that cause us to seek medical attention actually have deeper origins than the superficial germs and behaviors we regularly fault. In fact, as Jeremy Taylor shows in Body by Darwin, we can trace the roots of many medical conditi We think of medical science and doctors as focused on treating conditions—whether it’s a cough or an aching back. But the sicknesses and complaints that cause us to seek medical attention actually have deeper origins than the superficial germs and behaviors we regularly fault. In fact, as Jeremy Taylor shows in Body by Darwin, we can trace the roots of many medical conditions through our evolutionary history, revealing what has made us susceptible to certain illnesses and ailments over time and how we can use that knowledge to help us treat or prevent problems in the future.   In Body by Darwin, Taylor examines the evolutionary origins of some of our most common and serious health issues. To begin, he looks at the hygiene hypothesis, which argues that our obsession with anti-bacterial cleanliness, particularly at a young age, may be making us more vulnerable to autoimmune and allergic diseases. He also discusses diseases of the eye, the medical consequences of bipedalism as they relate to all those aches and pains in our backs and knees, the rise of Alzheimer’s disease, and how cancers become so malignant that they kill us despite the toxic chemotherapy we throw at them. Taylor explains why it helps to think about heart disease in relation to the demands of an ever-growing, dense, muscular pump that requires increasing amounts of nutrients, and he discusses how walking upright and giving birth to ever larger babies led to a problematic compromise in the design of the female spine and pelvis.  Throughout, he not only explores the impact of evolution on human form and function, but he integrates science with stories from actual patients and doctors, closely examining the implications for our health.   As Taylor shows, evolutionary medicine allows us think about the human body and its adaptations in a completely new and productive way. By exploring how our body’s performance is shaped by its past, Body by Darwin draws powerful connections between our ancient human history and the future of potential medical advances that can harness this knowledge.


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We think of medical science and doctors as focused on treating conditions—whether it’s a cough or an aching back. But the sicknesses and complaints that cause us to seek medical attention actually have deeper origins than the superficial germs and behaviors we regularly fault. In fact, as Jeremy Taylor shows in Body by Darwin, we can trace the roots of many medical conditi We think of medical science and doctors as focused on treating conditions—whether it’s a cough or an aching back. But the sicknesses and complaints that cause us to seek medical attention actually have deeper origins than the superficial germs and behaviors we regularly fault. In fact, as Jeremy Taylor shows in Body by Darwin, we can trace the roots of many medical conditions through our evolutionary history, revealing what has made us susceptible to certain illnesses and ailments over time and how we can use that knowledge to help us treat or prevent problems in the future.   In Body by Darwin, Taylor examines the evolutionary origins of some of our most common and serious health issues. To begin, he looks at the hygiene hypothesis, which argues that our obsession with anti-bacterial cleanliness, particularly at a young age, may be making us more vulnerable to autoimmune and allergic diseases. He also discusses diseases of the eye, the medical consequences of bipedalism as they relate to all those aches and pains in our backs and knees, the rise of Alzheimer’s disease, and how cancers become so malignant that they kill us despite the toxic chemotherapy we throw at them. Taylor explains why it helps to think about heart disease in relation to the demands of an ever-growing, dense, muscular pump that requires increasing amounts of nutrients, and he discusses how walking upright and giving birth to ever larger babies led to a problematic compromise in the design of the female spine and pelvis.  Throughout, he not only explores the impact of evolution on human form and function, but he integrates science with stories from actual patients and doctors, closely examining the implications for our health.   As Taylor shows, evolutionary medicine allows us think about the human body and its adaptations in a completely new and productive way. By exploring how our body’s performance is shaped by its past, Body by Darwin draws powerful connections between our ancient human history and the future of potential medical advances that can harness this knowledge.

30 review for Body by Darwin: How Evolution Shapes Our Health and Transforms Medicine

  1. 4 out of 5

    Vladimir Chupakhin

    Amazing book about evolutionary biology and human diseases. Very well written, based on tons of really fresh research (believe me, I am in the loop of those), nice structure, well balanced between too academic and too scientific.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Vinod Peris

    Every chapter of this book is filled with nuggets of wisdom. Taylor looks for an evolutionary angle to enlighten us on the causes of some of the most critical ailments that plague the human body. He starts with the well known fact that humans are comprised of 90% microbes and only 10% cells. Nevertheless the history of medicine has focused mainly on understanding the functioning (and dysfunction) of our organs. In the first chapter Taylor highlights the role of the intestinal bacteria and helmin Every chapter of this book is filled with nuggets of wisdom. Taylor looks for an evolutionary angle to enlighten us on the causes of some of the most critical ailments that plague the human body. He starts with the well known fact that humans are comprised of 90% microbes and only 10% cells. Nevertheless the history of medicine has focused mainly on understanding the functioning (and dysfunction) of our organs. In the first chapter Taylor highlights the role of the intestinal bacteria and helminths (parasitic worms) in regulating our internal equilibrium. The depletion of some of these “old friends” can result in many allergic and auto-immune conditions. The next stop on the Evolution Theory Tour is an explanation of human fertility or more accurately “infertility”. To start with Taylor points out that during a pregnancy the genetic interests of the mother, father and the baby are engaged in a tug of war. It is fascinating to read how their tug of war is at all levels and first takes place between the father and mother. First the chemicals in the semen are evaluated for their fit. Then, the paternal and maternal copies of the genes duke it out in a literal tug of war. Taylor describes an experiment where a copy of the same gene on the chromosome from the mother/father is manipulated. If either one of them was silenced it result in the fetus being significantly above/blow the baseline for a normal offspring. Ergo, we really need both copies of the gene to find the right balance. The mother rejects poor quality embryos so she can preserve her scarce opportunities to propagate her genes and maximize the potential for raising a healthy offspring. Miscarriages are very common and most of them are not even registered as they happen even before a pregnancy is detected. In the author’s words “the embryo and fetus are in a constant state of probation until birth." In the next chapter, Taylor discusses the vexing back pains that 80% of adults suffer from at some point or the other in their lives. Contrary to common belief, the author states that the cause is solely because we stand upright. In fact, changing from a horizontal to vertical posture doesn’t change the compressive pressure on the vertebrae in any significant way. It is the leveraged activities like heavy lifting or gardening that put an order of magnitude more pressure on the vertebral muscles that can result in injury. In case you are wondering what the evolutionary advantage of standing upright is, Taylor’s view is that it enabled us to decouple our stride from our respiration, thereby allowing us to run continuously for long periods of time. In contrast, quadrupeds can’t pant and gallop at the same time so that even the fastest animals can a sustain burst of speed for only a few minutes at a time. The next stop on the evolutionary tour is the form and function of the human eye. While it is one of our more impressive organs, it is not a marvel of Engineering genius. The photosensitive cells are facing the outside of an inverted cup retina and a jumble of nerves on the inside carry the signal out through the optic nerve, resulting in a blind spot at the center of the retina. While at first glance this seems like a bad design, Taylor puts forth some theories on who and why this could have evolved in humans. He goes on to explain how there have been many independent evolutions of eyes on this planet, estimating anywhere from 40 to 65 independent outcomes. No book on medicine would be complete without a discussion on cancer and Taylor does not disappoint. He points out that there are many different types of cancer and even a single tumor can have multiple groups of cells with different mutations with varied genetic makeup. Thus it is very unlikely that we will discover a singular cure for all types of cancer. Finally Taylor closes out the book with an in-depth look at the cause and effect of Alzheimers. For me, this chapter had a very special significance as the cloud of Alzheimers hung over the last few years of my father’s life. For a long time, conventional wisdom maintained that Alzheimers was caused by beta amyloid plaque deposits on the neurons in the cortical region of the brain. Taylor argues quite convincingly the the plaque, while clearly present in Alzheimers patients, may be a symptom and not really the cause of the disease. He points to recent studies that show that in an overwhelming majority of cases, Alzheimers patients have inflammation of brain tissue and may be the result of an underlying infection that has leaked into the brain. The amyloid plaque might just be an immune response to try and contain the spread of infection. In summary, this book makes a strong case of taking an evolutionary view to the treatment of the complex diseases that currently afflict the human race. While it is quite readable, it veers into textbook territory with a multitude of technical jargon and acronyms. Nevertheless it is a must-read for anyone who is curious about what the future medical treatment has in store for us.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Damian

    I had to quit the book. Too dense

  4. 4 out of 5

    Nadzeya Markevich

    Так и не нашла, как добавлять самой книги! Ну пускай все думают, что я прочитала ее на английском.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Dmytro Kostochko

    Чудова книга. Потрібно перечитати через рік.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Judith

    This is an excellent book summarizing current states of research on a number of medical problems we all face, including miscarriages, loss of sight (e.g. macular degeneration), increased auto-immune diseases including allergies, arthritis, Crohn's disease; Alzheimer's; cancer. Because Taylor was producer and director of BBC Science Division, he has had extensive experience in presenting complex information to the public; this book, though thorough in its reporting, is easy to read. It is publish This is an excellent book summarizing current states of research on a number of medical problems we all face, including miscarriages, loss of sight (e.g. macular degeneration), increased auto-immune diseases including allergies, arthritis, Crohn's disease; Alzheimer's; cancer. Because Taylor was producer and director of BBC Science Division, he has had extensive experience in presenting complex information to the public; this book, though thorough in its reporting, is easy to read. It is published by the University of Chicago Press, so it has been thoroughly vetted by outsider referees. Taylor has interviewed a number of scientists whose research he is reporting on. If there is one medical topic book you read this year (or in 2016) this is certainly a prime contender. He is even-handed, but gives due time to reporting on new avenues of research that are not "main-stream", e.g. avenues that suggest that particular importance be given to consideration of the role of inflammation in a number of these diseases and conditions. I learned that a relatively new field of medical research is evolutionary medicine, which looks at the genomes and evolution to see how evolutionary adaptations affect our health. There are always pluses and minuses with every adaptation; add to this our increasing longevity and we can see that pluses can become minuses later in our lives. I cannot recommend this book enough to the lay reader.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Robert Tell

    This is an incredible book that I can recommend to anyone with an interest in why our bodies do the things they do. Most of what we hear and read conceptualizes our bodies as machines that can be kept repaired and running in the same way we maintain our cars. The evolutionary perspective, according to Jeremy Taylor, is only interested in maximizing our reproductive fitness. How do these two perspectives differ when focused on specific diseases and organ systems? For the answers, the book's chapt This is an incredible book that I can recommend to anyone with an interest in why our bodies do the things they do. Most of what we hear and read conceptualizes our bodies as machines that can be kept repaired and running in the same way we maintain our cars. The evolutionary perspective, according to Jeremy Taylor, is only interested in maximizing our reproductive fitness. How do these two perspectives differ when focused on specific diseases and organ systems? For the answers, the book's chapters discuss allergies and autoimmune disease, infertility and diseases of pregnancy, orthopedic illness, blindness, cancer, cardiology, and dementia, and together go a long way to reveal the folly (in my biased opinion) of creationism. An important read for the layman as well as the professional. (Full disclosure, I am quoted in the chapter on cancer.)

  8. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    This book was fine, but not as strong on the evolution front as I had hoped. He didn't even really discuss the issue of natural selection being a weak force to act on diseases of old age until the last chapter, and that seems to me one of the most important points of thinking about evolutionary medicine. It is also very heavily focused on inflammation, even when scientific evidence is not as strong for its role in the disease process (like for autism). This book was fine, but not as strong on the evolution front as I had hoped. He didn't even really discuss the issue of natural selection being a weak force to act on diseases of old age until the last chapter, and that seems to me one of the most important points of thinking about evolutionary medicine. It is also very heavily focused on inflammation, even when scientific evidence is not as strong for its role in the disease process (like for autism).

  9. 5 out of 5

    D

    If you have had medical issues in your family you will find this book, "Body by Darwin:" an enlightening experience. The book will relieve many anxieties you may have. Plus, just good reading. If you have had medical issues in your family you will find this book, "Body by Darwin:" an enlightening experience. The book will relieve many anxieties you may have. Plus, just good reading.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Alexandra

  11. 5 out of 5

    Anna Goldina

  12. 4 out of 5

    Sergiy Salkov

  13. 4 out of 5

    James Yu

  14. 4 out of 5

    Illusion89

  15. 5 out of 5

    Diane

  16. 5 out of 5

    Maria

  17. 4 out of 5

    Paul Vittay

  18. 5 out of 5

    Alex Ishkin

  19. 4 out of 5

    daisy

  20. 5 out of 5

    Taylor Guillemette

  21. 4 out of 5

    Allen

  22. 5 out of 5

    Michelle Baumbach

  23. 5 out of 5

    Taylor Silkey

  24. 5 out of 5

    Sabrina Rowland

  25. 5 out of 5

    Micah

  26. 4 out of 5

    Kris Airdancer

  27. 5 out of 5

    Anna Mironova

  28. 5 out of 5

    Irina

  29. 4 out of 5

    Shea Dulaney

  30. 4 out of 5

    Claire Dee

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