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Disappointing book on evolutionary medicine,
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This review is from: Evolving Health: The Origins of Illness and How the Modern World Is Making Us Sick (Hardcover)
The field of evolutionary medicine is starting to take off - and some popular books (for instance: Survival of the Sickest: A Medical Maverick Discovers Why We Need Disease & Why We Get Sick: The New Science of Darwinian Medicine) have highlighted the field for the layman. The field has a long way to go, and many theories are hard to test. However, the 'evolutionary approach' holds great promise for our understanding of both disease and aging - and based on other reviews of this book I was reasonably excited picking it up.
What a disappointment! The central 'idea' is that diseases can be traced to one of 17 'levels' of evolution based on the development cycle of an organism. Each chapter is based on telling about the diseases caused by a defect from that 'level'. Although this seems to make some sense at the outset, it does not provide any deeper insight to the origin of diseases that I could find.
Although some insights are given, I think the job of providing a comprehensive view of evolutionary medicine was too large for this author. Many statements are not referenced, and some are flat out wrong - for instance the claim that betacarotene can prevent lung cancer in smokers.
The chapter on smoking and lung cancer/COPD was a good example of disappointment brought by this book. The causal link between tobacco smoking and lung cancer & COPD is already well described by 'ordinary' medicine. The ill effects of smoking and its addictiveness have been proved convincingly, and I could not see what this book added.
What evolutionary insight came forward here? The author seems to think that we evolved to like fire, thus we want to smoke, and then we are hooked by the unintended addictive effect of nicotine. Why does nicotine have pleasant by-effects for instance?
I believe this exciting field is still awaiting a comprehensive and well-referenced treatment.