Evolution and diseases of afluence

Lifestyle and nutritional imbalances associated with Western diseases: causes and consequences of chronic systemic low-grade inflammation in an evolutionary context

In this review, we focus on lifestyle changes, especially dietary habits, that are at the basis of chronic systemic low grade inflammation, insulin resistance and Western diseases. Our sensitivity to develop insulin resistance traces back to our rapid brain growth in the past 2.5 million years. An inflammatory reaction jeopardizes the high glucose needs of our brain, causing various adaptations, including insulin resistance, functional reallocation of energy-rich nutrients and changing serum lipoprotein composition. The latter aims at redistribution of lipids, modulation of the immune reaction, and active inhibition of reverse cholesterol transport for damage repair. With the advent of the agricultural and industrial revolutions, we have introduced numerous false inflammatory triggers in our lifestyle, driving us to a state of chronic systemic low grade inflammation that eventually leads to typically Western diseases via an evolutionary conserved interaction between our immune system and metabolism. The underlying triggers are an abnormal dietary composition and microbial flora, insufficient physical activity and sleep, chronic stress and environmental pollution. The disturbance of our inflammatory/anti-inflammatory balance is illustrated by dietary fatty acids and antioxidants. The current decrease in years without chronic disease is rather due to “nurture” than “nature,” since less than 5% of the typically Western diseases are primary attributable to genetic factors. Resolution of the conflict between environment and our ancient genome might be the only effective manner for “healthy aging,” and to achieve this we might have to return to the lifestyle of the Paleolithic era as translated to the 21st century culture.

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