Evolutionary medicine (also referred to as Darwinian medicine) is the application of evolutionary theory to the understanding of human ailments.1 2 3 It explores evolutionary mechanisms of disease, offering a complementary framework to the proximate mechanistic explanations that prevail in medicine today. In this paper, we consider the application of evolutionary theory to the treatment of ailments.
A major contribution of evolutionary medicine is the framing of human diseases as maladaptations of our prehistoric factory settings. Our physiologic processes were shaped during prehistoric evolution to meet the needs of the era, but those same processes may behave maladaptively in the modern environment and produce disease. We take that notion one step further and propose an overarching therapeutic paradigm for human ailments based on evolutionary theory—the induction of adaptations in the body as a way to treat disease. It is the idea of creating somatic traits in the body that evolution might otherwise need to create over many generations through the sheer force of variation and natural selection. In the same way, that evolution has endowed us with traits that shield against biotic and abiotic stress to maintain homeostasis, we propose treating patients by endowing the body with buffers against ailments.
Warren Buffett once famously stated that “Berkshire [Hathaway] buys when the lemmings are headed the other way,” conjuring up visions of rodents blindly following one another off a cliff. But the idea that lemmings participate in mass suicide is a myth, propagated by a Disney documentary. The widespread misuse of the lemming metaphor by investors to illustrate herd behavior itself reveals the herdlike behavior of investors and the scarcity of original insight.
Original insight is also uncommon among doctors. Physicians are trained through rote memorization, and independent views are often ridiculed by peers and prosecuted by malpractice attorneys. The hiring of physicians as consultants by investment firms seeking unique perspectives has instead led to a greater tendency toward consensus thinking.