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Why We Get Sick: The New Science of Darwinian Medicine [Paperback]

Randolph M. Nesse , George C. Williams
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Jan. 30 1996 Vintage
The answers are in this groundbreaking book by two founders of the emerging science of Darwinian medicine, who deftly synthesize the latest research on disorders ranging from allergies to Alzheimer's and from cancer to Huntington's chorea. Why We Get Sick compels readers to reexamine the age-old attitudes toward sickness. Line drawings.

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Is our tendency to "fix" our bodies with medicine keeping them from working exactly as they're supposed to? Two pioneers of the emerging science of Darwinian medicine argue that illness is part and parcel of the evolutionary system and as such, may be helping us to evolve towards better adaptation to our environment.

From Publishers Weekly

Nesse and Williams have written a lively discourse on the application of the principles of evolutionary biology to the dilemmas of modern medicine. Nesse, a physician and an associate professor of psychiatry, and Williams, a professor of ecology and evolution, provide a primer on Darwin's theory of natural selection. They explain that the functional design of organisms-e.g., our bodies-may suggest new ways of addressing illness. The book begins with a look at the causes of disease and their evolutionary influences. But the book mainly assesses the concept of adaptation by natural selection, and illustrates the ways Darwinian thinking can be applied to medical problems. As one example, the authors examine the use of penicillin over the past 60 years against bacterial infections. The book's quirky information may speak to a broad audience: researchers, for instance, have found that relatives of schizophrenics have an unusually high frequency of inclusion in Who's Who-which may counterbalance drawbacks of the disorder in evolutionary terms. The tendency toward child abuse, too, may be influenced, the authors say, by evolution and the passing on of genes. And there may well be an evolutionary reason to welcome morning sickness, they argue: nausea and food aversions during pregnancy apparently evolved to impose dietary restrictions on the mother so as to correspond with fetal vulnerability and, thereby, minimize fetal exposure to food toxins.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
Why, in a body of such exquisite design, are there a thousand flaws and frailties that make us vulnerable to disease? Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book with deep insight and perspective. Nov. 7 2012
By Andrew
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Brilliantly written, the book is easy to read even though it attacks complicated topics. The book covers various topics on how evolution has impacts on many aspects of our lives. From disease and genetic compromises to food and environmental influences.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
There is a growing realization that many diseases are related to or caused by pathogens. Lack of understanding of evolution of microorganisms makes us ineffective at treating disease.
The evolution of antibiotic resistance is a good case in point. Working with advanced electromagnetic technologies to eliminate pathogens quickly demonstrates that evolution of microorganisms can occur quickly enough to affect treatment during the course of treating a single episode of a disease in a single patient. There needs to be a new field of the science of internal ecology of the body that builds understanding of the ecosystems of the microbiological agents that outnumber our cells.
That said, Nesse and Williams give an easily readable primer on some of the fundamental evolutionary thinking essential for successful understanding and treatment of disease. It is unfortunate that more physicians are not deeply familiar with these issues. The improper handling of disease with current antibiotics makes the organisms that cause them more deadly. This could easily be minimized by correctly approaching treatment from a base of understanding of evolutionary biology.
While this book is a good step into the deep waters of internal ecology, its easy reading makes it somewhat superficial. To start getting the real scoop, you need to read Ewald's work. A good starting point is Plague Time: How Stealth Infections Cause Cancer, Heart Disease, and Other Deadly Ailments.
As one simple example, Plague Time points out that the Borna virus is usually associated with Bipolar disease. After working with a few individuals with Bipolar disease, I've found they invariably have the Borna virus. This is untreatable by conventional medicine.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Brilliant New Way to Think About Medicine July 30 2008
By Oliver TOP 500 REVIEWER
Nesse and Williams offer a brilliant new way to look at medicine. The human body is designed by evolution (if you do not believe that, do not bother buying this book). There is almost always a reason for what we see as flaws in our designs. If we keep this simple fact in mind, we can learn a great deal about how best to keep ourselves happy and healthy.

Sometimes what we perceive as a flaw is the inevitable cost of some unseen benefit. A fever may be uncomfortable, or even dangerous, but it may also play a role in fighting off a disease. At other times, our relatively recent (in evolutionary terms) move from hunter-gathers may explain the flaw. A taste for sugar and fat is a good thing if you are living on the brink of starvation on the African savanna, but it is not so helpful in a modern society.

This is not a self-help book, by any means. While the authors do provide many specific examples and hard facts, the main point of the book is to encourage doctors (and patients) to think more carefully and critically about the human body.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Practically reads itself Jan. 5 2003
By N. Gray
This book is extremely readable, and hard to put down. The authors make a very compelling case for the usefulness of a evolutionary perspective in medicine. I have a couple minor complaints (but don't let this discourage you). The authors seem to move freely between fact and speculation, without making clear distinctions. Not a problem if you're paying attention, but they may sometimes give the impression that their is more data to support a contention than there actually is. Anyway, I highly recommend this book - it's easy to read, stimulating, and bound to make you look at illness and health in a new way.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Stimulating Persepctives on Sickness March 15 2002
-Why We Get Sick- is a discussion on novel way of thinking about sickness, an epiphany on the perseverance of human vulnerability. The book addresses whre disease come from and why we get such diseases. Nesse and Williams carefully state 6 major causes of diseases: Defenses, infection, novel environments, genes, design compromises, and evolutionary legacies. Our immune system is the frontier battefield of any intruders. Studies have shown that at the first point of contraction, the immune system proliferate T-cells against the HIV virus. These immune cells fight the best they can to prohibit HIV settling onto the CD-4 cells. The only reason the immune system loses is because the HIV virus is simply too smart that they mutate into other forms and fool the T-cells. The first sign of the cold virus triggers series of defensive action-fever and sneezing are actually not illness, but defensive/immunological responses against the virus.
Bacteria can evolve as much in a day as we can in a thousand years, and this gives us a grossly unfair handicap in the arms race. That's right, according to the authors of this book, we are in an ever-lasting struggle with bacteria and virus because they evolve so much faster than we can imagine. TB disappeared more than 40 years ago after the discovery of antibiotics. TB is now coming back with an even more potent form-a kind that no longer can be treated by the old antibiotics. Evolution of the virus plays a significant role here. The possibile treatment would be chemical mimetics, synthesizing structurally similar compound to treat the new strain.
The more I read the more I'm refreshed by the authors. They discussed the cause of allergy and why some people are so allergic to plants and pollen while others are completely immune to them.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Worth every penny.
My friends, once try a few pages, always trying to "steal" it . When caught , they beg for title to order same for themselves.
Published 14 months ago by Eugene Kirillov
5.0 out of 5 stars Stimulating, important, clear.
From an evolutionary standpoint, it is reasonable to ask why we are plagued with disease, both physical and "mental", and why we age. Read more
Published on March 1 2004 by algo41
4.0 out of 5 stars Readable introduction to the ideas of evolutionary medicine
This is a very readable book and an excellent introduction to a subject that has hitherto been sorely neglected. Read more
Published on July 16 2001 by Dennis Littrell
5.0 out of 5 stars Nw Perspective and Stimulating Ideas
Dr. Nesse's book is a certainly very useful for those studying the medical sciences. His ideas on evolution and disease are intriguing and command the reader's attention. Read more
Published on Dec 23 2000 by Thomas P. Ambrose
4.0 out of 5 stars A Different Perspective
This book offers a stimulating challenge to medicine and a thoughtful discussion of how (Darwin) evolution theory applies to us. Mr. Nesse and Mr. Read more
Published on Aug. 16 2000 by Matthew M. Yau
5.0 out of 5 stars An evolutionary approach to understanding medicine
Slightly modifying an oft-quoted line by the famous biologist Dobzhansky, Nesse and Williams conclude, "After all, nothing in medicine makes sense except in the light of... Read more
Published on April 23 2000 by Peter Gray
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderfully interesting and engaging for laypeople
As a bright artistic type who is basically scientifically illiterate, I often find myself unable to get through more than a third of my organic chemist husband's science books. Read more
Published on May 20 1998
5.0 out of 5 stars Physician&Biologist sow seeds of Understanding among us
In their book Why We Get Sick the authors(a physician and a biologist) assert that an "evolutionary" perspective has been overlooked by western medicine in its analysis... Read more
Published on March 31 1998 by Croess63@aol.com
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