‘Too Much of a Good Thing’ Finds a Dilemma in Our DNA

Abigail Zuger in The New York Times:

BookWe tend to think of good genes as the ones that make us thin, calm, cheerful and healthy. This logical assumption may not be completely accurate: Dr. Lee Goldman suggests that even better genes may be the ones that make us fat, anxious and candidates for the services of a cardiologist like himself. It’s all a matter of perspective, and Dr. Goldman takes the long, long view in “Too Much of a Good Thing,” arguing that many common modern ills result from the surpassingly excellent genes that allowed our species to endure over the millenniums. Only very recently did these survivor genes turn on us, creating the collection of overweight, hypertensive, jumpy and miserable individuals we are today.

Some of his argument will probably be familiar, at least when it comes to the question of why we have all become so fat. Less has been written about other areas of human physiology where our genetic programming seems to butt up against the circumstances of modern life. Dr. Goldman integrates it all into a complex narrative — a little tough sledding at points, but still thought-provoking. Human blood had to clot efficiently, too, or people would have bled to death from the continual accidents inherent in outdoor life and women would have died from the bloody process of childbirth. Finally, primitive humans had to be continually vigilant against attack, instinctively fighting some dangers and hiding from others, never lowering their guard for a second. All those genetic predispositions tend to be nothing but trouble in modern times.

More here.