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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

3 April 2013

We're all fat because we're not eating what our bodies were made to eat. We're all suffering from back injuries and arthritis because we sit down all day, not lift boulders like we had evolved to do.
Our bodies have spent millions of years perfecting the process of holding onto fat and optimising energy consumption.
In the span of a single generation, we're all now trying to lose fat and move less. Simultaneously. 
We should all adopt Paleolithic diets because that's what our bodies were made to do.

This is a very modern thought process. 
It is because of this thought process that we've got the Paleo Diet, Cross Fit and other health fads. Now, I use the word 'fad' in its literal sense, not in any way implicit of the fleeting nature of these trends. 
So calm down.

Could we be wrong? Or kinda right?
Perhaps we underestimate our body's ability to adapt, or we overestimate the detriment of the modern lifestyle? Are we stuck with ancient genes?
Is it possible that we're all suffering misguided nostalgia for our paleo past?

Today's Daily Quota is an extract from a book by evolutionary biologist Marlene Zuk that takes aim at this very notion. It's called Paleofantasy: What Evolution Really Tells us About Sex, Diet and the Way We Live and the link below is via The Chronicle's Review of Books.

She summarises our ironic conundrum:
In a time with unprecedented ability to transform the environment, to make deserts bloom and turn intercontinental travel into the work of a few hours, we are suffering from diseases our ancestors of a few thousand years ago, much less our prehuman selves, never knew: diabetes, hypertension, rheumatoid arthritis...obesity and associated maladies are curtailing the promise of modern medicine.
She goes on to discuss flaws in evolutionary theory, such as the 'bottleneck' concept of genetic selection.
She gives examples of scientific data that show that our evolutionary process is becoming more and more rapid - indication, perhaps, of our adaptive nature?
She also highlights non-biological factors that may influence evolutionary growth - medicine, treatable ailments versus non-treatable ailments, the rise of 'superbugs' and the fact that our lives now demand more intellect, and require little to no physical ability at all.

Food for thought. 
I find this a great foundation for further discussion, and I admire Professor Zuk for raising debate in an area which seems inundated by 'indisputable evidence' and enormous popular appeal.


Note: coincidentally, hours after uploading this article, a review for this book also appeared on Mark's Daily Apple. If you're interested in this topic, and would like to read a more conventional review, it can be found here.

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