Medicine is grounded in the natural sciences, where biology stands out with regard to our understanding of human physiology and the conditions that cause dysfunction. Ironically though, evolutionary biology is a relatively disregarded field. One reason for this omission is that evolution is deemed a slow process. Indeed, the macroanatomical features of our species have changed very little in the last 300,000 years. A more detailed look, however, reveals that novel ecological contingencies, partly in relation to cultural evolution, have brought about subtle changes pertaining to metabolism and immunology, including adaptations to dietary innovations, as well as adaptations to the exposure to novel pathogens. Rapid pathogen evolution and evolution of cancer cells cause major problems for the immune system. Moreover, many adaptations to past ecologies have actually turned into risk factors for somatic disease and psychological disorder in our modern worlds (i.e. mismatch), among which epidemics of autoimmune diseases, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and obesity, as well as several forms of cancer stand out. One could add depression, anxiety, and other psychiatric conditions to the list.
The Oxford Handbook of Evolutionary Medicine is a compilation of up-to-date insights into the evolutionary history of ourselves as a species, exploring how and why our evolved design may convey vulnerability to disease. Written in a classic textbook style emphasising physiology and pathophysiology of all major organ systems, the Oxford Handbook of Evolutionary Medicine is valuable reading for students as well as scholars in the fields of medicine, biology, anthropology and psychology.