March 20, 2007
News & Opinion: Disease: A Good Thing?
In the Big Think genre, I am recommending people pick up Survival of The Sickest by Sharon Moalem and Jonathan Prince. Moalem is a evolutionary biologist and he has some interesting things to say about diseases. He says many of the things that afflict us now are the same things that protected us in the past.
My family has a history of diabetes that runs through it. My father always thought it was from his mother's side of the family. Moalem makes a strong case for it coming from the paternal side. He believes that higher sugar levels are the body's way of producing antifreeze. This phenomenon can be seen in wood frogs that boost their glucose levels to 100 times normal before "freezing" for the winter. Grapes vines do the same thing before a frost to protect their fruit.
Having this mechanism, might have been helpful in northern climate or say during an Ice Age. Turns out that Finland has the highest rate of Type 1 diabetes, followed by Sweden, Norway and the United Kingdom. As it relates to me, my grandfather was an Ellis Island immigrant who came from Sweden.
I am going to let you read the book to get the rest of this story and answers to other questions like:
- Why can sunglasses cause sunburn?
- Can the tanning salon lower cholestrol?
- Can a person rust to death?
The book has a medical Freakonomics feel to it (and they both share William Morrow as their publisher). Check it out.