Our ancestors have hunted and gathered for more than a million years. Our internal chemistry and bodily functions were designed for a lifestyle foreign to most of us today.
Perhaps the best way to gather an impression of humanity’s journey is to look at hunter-gatherer societies still functioning today — a window on our beginnings.
The San! Kung of the Kalahari Desert cover up to 3,500 kilometres on foot each year and move camp frequently in the quest to eat.
Their strategies are to minimize travel to find food, to ensure that a single adult can carry the family’s possessions, and to minimize over-harvesting in one area.
This in turns limits the amount of stuff they can carry, the size of their families, the size of the band and the quality of their accommodations.
There is no leisure class. Everyone works.
Work consists of hunting, gathering, drawing water; of the manufacture and maintenance of tools, housing and clothing; of housework and child care.
Death is common at all stages of life. Nearly 40 per cent of their children die by the age of five.
If a person does survive to age 15, then he or she could expect to live another 25 to 30 years.
Most deaths are due to infections, parasites, and to a lesser degree, trauma. The diseases of our modern times — heart disease, diabetes, obesity and cancer, are non-existent.
They have very low levels of cholesterol. They exhibit no high blood pressure at any age. They have no vitamin deficiencies or dental cavities, but their teeth are often ground down to the gum line from a lifetime of chewing rough foodstuffs.
One third of the population over 60 walks with difficulty due to old injuries or arthritis, but exhibit no hearing loss. No suicides were reported during the study periods.
The departure from this lifestyle has affected us in many ways. Some are highly desirable, like the dramatic increases in life spans and decreases in infant deaths.
Others are less so. Chronic malnutrition is now common among the poor. Bangladesh is the world’s thinnest nation. Millions go without enough to eat.
At the other extreme, a combination of overeating, eating the wrong things such as fast foods and sugary drinks, coupled with inactivity, are causing an epidemic of high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, cancer of the colon, heart disease, strokes, diabetes and obesity.
Can we, meaning our species, find the means to continue to enjoy the blessings of modernity, while eliminating its negative effects? That is a worthy goal.
Dr. Peter Zalan is president of the medical staff at Health Sciences North. His monthly column tackles issues in health care from a local perspective.