What Is A Mismatch Disease?

An evolutionary mismatch disease is a sickness caused, at least in part, by an environment that is vastly different from those that our bodies are best suited for. Humanity has changed the world in innumerable ways over the past thousand years, and our bodies are slow to catch up. Of course, not everything about modern life is a curse; but mismatch diseases are typically caused by stimuli that are too much, too little, or too new.

For some perspective: human beings have been around for about roughly 200,000 years, while agricultural communities were first settled about 12,000 years ago. Meanwhile, consider that the in 1883 the Brooklyn Bridge was the tallest man-made structure in the Western hemisphere, cars are only 130 years old, and the internet as we know it is barely 30 years old. Our bodies are far behind the evolution of our environment. This sort of rapid technological progress is called cultural evolution, as opposed to the much slower and naturally occurring biological evolution.

Along with ageing, the leading cause of most mismatch diseases is a long-term positive energy balance. Your energy balance is in equilibrium if over time you are neither gaining nor losing weight. However, cheap calories are now readily available and sitting still is incentivized by school and most jobs. Because a negative energy balance is maladaptive (bad for reproductive success), we tend to consume more calories than we spend. Over time, the tendency toward a surplus of calories leads to obesity and all of the corresponding complications (including increased cardiovascular blockage, and a higher risk of reproductive cancer). Considering the rule of the Axemaker’s Gift, negative consequences of many aspects of modern life can be inferred, from foot problems from ill-fitting sneakers to anxiety brought on by planes and automobiles.

If anything, the best actionable advice to counteract the effects of environment and heredity are to follow a regular regimen of varied physical activity and to maintain a balanced diet while avoiding an excess of sweets and alcohol. Easier said than done, I know.

Below is a list of maladies thought to be most aggregated by this tension between genes and environment. Click the links to find out more about any given disease. Please note that this list is by no means definitive–many of the online resources admit only vague understanding of the condition’s root causes.

Hypothesized Noninfectious Mismatch Diseases
Acid reflux/chronic heartburn Flat feet
Acne Glaucoma
Alzheimer’s disease Gout
Anxiety Hammer toes
Apnea Hemorrhoids
Asthma High blood pressure (hypertension)
Athlete’s foot Iodine deficiency (goiter/cretinism)
 Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder Impacted wisdom teeth
 Bunions Insomnia (chronic)
 Cancers (only certain ones) Irritable bowel syndrome
 Carpal tunnel syndrome Lactose intolerance
 Cavities Lower back pain
 Chronic fatigue syndrome Malocclusion
 Cirrhosis Metabolic syndrome
 Constipation (chronic) Multiple sclerosis
 Coronary heart disease Myopia
 Crohn’s disease Obsessive compulsive disorder
 Depression Osteoporosis
 Diabetes (type 2) Plantar fasciitis
 Diaper rash Polycystic ovarian syndrome
 Eating disorders Preeclampsia
 Emphysema Rickets
 Endometriosis Scurvy
 Fatty liver syndrome Stomach ulcers

Source: The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease

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