Sunday, January 08, 2017

Sharon Moalem's "Survival Of The Sickest"

I read a lot of books, but I'm not frequently motivated to write a review of these books.  However, I just finished a book that one of my tree planters recommended to me, and I found it to be a great choice.

The book was written by Sharon Moalem, a Canadian doctor with a Ph.D. in human physiology, specializing in neurogenetics and evolutionary medicine.  The book is non-fiction, and is best suited for readers who have at least completed high school biology, or who have a basic understanding of genetics and/or medicine.  But this is far from a textbook.

Rather than going into a traditional style of review, I'm instead going to just list a handful of subjects that the book talks about, in point form.  This alone should be enough to let you know whether or not you might find it to be interesting:

- Many people are familiar with the practice of "bleeding" a patient, which is a practice that happened with the earliest recorded history, and which for some time in the modern era "made no sense."  Well, consider the fact that iron is a critical mineral for human life (I didn't realize how critical until I read this book).  What if there was a disease (there is, called hemochromatosis) in which a person was unable to "use up" the iron in their body, and the amount stored kept growing?  Too much of a good thing is sometimes bad, and this oversupply of iron can happen.  With a lack of other easy ways to remove iron from the blood, "bleeding" a patient sometimes IS a good practice.

- People with hemochromatosis have too much iron in their bodies, as noted above.  But even though their bodies are littered with iron, one important place where this iron doesn't collect is in the white blood cells.  The bubonic plague of the Middle Ages was a bacterial disease in which the infectious agent entered the white blood cells, and the iron in the white cells was an important part of the growth of the infection.  But people with hemochromatosis lucked out.  In many cases, the lack of iron in their microphages protected the human from the disease.

- There's a great section talking about Diabetes and sugar intake (I'll have a lot less sugar in my coffee from now on).  The number of obese children in north America today is staggering, and getting worse.  Many of these children are getting diabetes, as a tie-in to their obesity.  I won't get into the diabetes section in depth, but it taught me a lot about how to should think about certain lifestyle changes.

- The pituitary gland is indirectly responsible for the production of melatonin, which helps prevent skin cancer.  But the pituitary gland gets its information from the optic nerve.  Wearing sunglasses will trick the optic nerve, and affect your melatonin production, which can put you at much higher risk for skin cancer!

- There is a theory that the reason people often sneeze upon exposure to bright sunlight is because when we still lived in caves, if a person sneezed upon coming out of the cave into bright sunlight, the sneeze might dislodge microbes and molds from the nose or upper respiratory tract.  I hadn't heard this theory before.  I actually disagree with it, but it's interesting (my theory is much more basic, namely that a sneeze is intended to possibly help divert your stare when you look at the sun, to avoid damage to your retinas).

- The last ice age ended not over a slow change of a few thousand years, but rather, over an unbelievably rapid global adjustment of just three years!  This has staggering implications upon climate change theory today.  We could mess up our planet far, far more quickly than we currently believe.

- Human females tend to be more likely to conceive males during "good times" and more likely to conceive females during "tough times" (this refers to a very macro scale, as in global conflicts and disasters, not a temporary challenge such as "I broke a coffee mug half an hour before we had sex).

The book also goes into discussions such as:

- Why Asians often have such an intolerance to alcohol.

- Theories on better ways to prevent cholera outbreaks.

- How sunspot activity (and solar radiation) may relate to some past global influenza epidemics and pandemics.

- The relationship of telomerase to the Hayflick Limit to cancer to longevity.

- Why some diseases are passed down directly from woman to granddaughter, rather than woman to daughter (because when a female is conceived, her lifetime supply of eggs is already in her body when she's still a fetus - thus the eggs that produce the next generation were actually carried inside the grandmother's body when the mom was not yet born).

Phew, this post has covered a lot of ground.  Well, if all of the above is of interest to you, then you're going to learn a lot from this book.

Happy reading ...

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