Tuesday, January 15, 2008

of frogsicles and zombie orb-weaving spiders

I think my original interest in this book came about with my hypothesis that some people (perhaps me in particular) might have stronger immune systems than others simply in the fact that they have weaker immune systems than everyone else. Ultralong oxymoron? Let me try and explain: I seem to have a continual cold (especially in winter) or a cold that comes, gets better for a day or two, and then returns. My mother shows constant concern for this and is always urging me to a doctor (said doctors can never do much~neither can airbourne or Theraflu) but of course i am constantly exposed to the public and every virus that comes their way (basically every virus that comes into our community~especially since those lovely people who are too sick to go into work must come into the library to pick up their movies to keep them entertained at home.) Anyway, i'm known to have a weak immune system, but i sometimes wonder if my immune isn't very strong for fighting off all those viruses it gets and not getting any major complications~perhaps when the major superbug hits i will have already developed and immunity to it because i will have already had one of its original permutations. It's a theory anyway...
Survival of the Sickest: a medical maverick discovers why we need disease isn't quite so much a defense of my theory as it is a rather fascinating study of evolutionary epidemiology (among other things~and perhaps if i had read the subtitle before placing the hold i might have picked up on that~but maybe i read a review and had an entirely different reason for wanting to read the book in the first place~one never knows these things). The medical maverick of the subtitle is Dr. Sharon Maolem (Jonathan Prince is co-credited~a not-so-much ghost writer?) The reading is pretty easygoing, if you are new to the subject area it is incredibly interesting~if you are not new to the subject area there might not be that much new information here but the presentation is such that might still come across a few "a-has" or "I hadn't thought of that one".
His basic premise is that evolution and the climatic conditions of our ancestry contributed to our genetic heritage (perhaps not such a huge intellectual leap) but that the genetic predisposition to certain diseases such as diabetes was an advantage in colder climates such as Northern Europe or Scandinavia where increased sugar levels might be a protection against the cold.
I'm not sure how much of a "maverick" Dr. Moalem is (a Ph. D. in human physiology and in the "emerging fields of neurogenetics and evolutionary medicine"), much of this has been at least postulated before; but he does an excellent job of synthesizing it for the general reader (i enjoyed it anyway.)

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