View Full Version : Must-read: SURVIVAL OF THE SICKEST

07-28-10, 12:10 AM
Survival of the Sickest: A medical maverick discovers why we need disease. Dr. Sharon Moalem, William Morrow, 2007.

You probably knew that sickle-cell anemia protects you from malaria, or that hemachromatosis helps the immune system contain infection. That's where this exploration of the co-evolution of disease + protection begins. About these "protective" diseases, the author makes an analogy with a pill that will kill you tomorrow, or a pill that will kill you 40 years from now. I learned that UVB destroys folate...that the evolution of dark skin protects us from sun damage and also from folate loss, but slows absorption of Vitamin D...as our species moved north and lightened up to enhance Vitamin D, the light skin presented a greater risk of folate loss...SO: we have a protein (apolipoprotein or ApoE4) whose function is to keep serum cholesterol high to maximize Vitamin D. Another reason why cholesterol is so important.

Moalem leads us seamlessly through the complex interrelationship between health and disease, and ends with an education on epigenetics and how it stands everything we thought we knew about heredity on its head. He claims we are just beginning to know how little we don't know in this emerging science. Every page I turned was a new discovery. Everywhere there was more evidence, much of it nutritional, on the multiple ways in which environmental factors influence evolution. Obesity and cancer are both affected. It's a whole new take on nature vs. nurture. You will be stunned by what you read in the last couple of chapters. As I said: a must-read!

ETA: I've just finished the book and found yet more insights, including the aquatic ape hypothesis; life expectancies & telomerase & cancer; and the preceding answers to questions like, Why does malaria want us in bed but the common cold want us at work? Why do we have so much DNA that doesn't seem to do anything? (Reminds me of the "we only use 10% of our brain" belief) ...and, Is there a better way to combat infectious agents than to keep developing new drugs?