Heart Disease in Hunter-Gatherers?
Atherosclerosis and other chronic non-communicable diseases are commonly believed to have been rare among ancestral humans. Instead, they are often seen as recent consequences of modern environments and lifestyles. One important lens for viewing health and disease in evolutionary context is the biomedical study of subsistence-level societies living under relatively traditional conditions without modern amenities. In order to help understand whether heart disease is an ancient stalker or a modern scourge, I will first assess the demography of preindustrial human life span and show that long lifespan is an evolved human trait. I then discuss recent attempts to evaluate cardiac and arterial health in preindustrial humans. While evidence of atherosclerosis in both ancient and contemporary preindustrial humans exists, there is less evidence that such pathology is clinically relevant. While there may not be a single smoking gun that explains a human heart-friendly lifestyle, the importance of a well-regulated immune system may be central.