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Survival of the Sickest: A Medical Maverick Discovers Why We Need Disease Paperback – Large Print, 1 Jun 2007

4.4 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews

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Paperback, Large Print, 1 Jun 2007
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Product details

  • Paperback: 349 pages
  • Publisher: Harperluxe; 1 Lgr edition (Jun. 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061232963
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061232961
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.2 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 7,225,350 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

'…an entertaining journey through evolutionary medicine.' New Scientist

'A tart, funny and fascinating confection about emerging evolutionary understanding of illness.' The Guardian

'Groundbreaking and absorbing.' Closer

'This is a revolutionary and engaging exploration of our evolutionary history'. The Herald

'Insightful and accessible.' The Good Book Guide

'Smart, entertaining and informative.' Lifescape

‘This excellent book deserves a place in every lending library in the land.’ The Oldie

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Sharon Moalem has a Ph.D. in the emerging fields of neurogenetics and evolutionary medicine. His research has discovered a new genetic association for familial Alzheimer disease. He has also published on the adaptive advantages of the genetic mutations that cause Hemochromatosis. He continues to work as a researcher while finishing his medical training at New York’s Mount Sinai School of Medicine. He lives in New York City.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
We're used to thinking of disease as the enemy, as a malicious force that makes our lives shorter and more miserable. That may be exactly what "disease" is on an individual basis--but its value to the species as a whole is a different matter.

Dr. Moalem elegantly explains why medical conditions that are deemed to be diseases today often helped our ancestors survive and reproduce in difficult environments. Take hemochromatosis, a hereditary condition that causes iron to accumulate in a person's internal organs, eventually leading to death. Although the gene that causes hemochromatosis was once thought to be rare, research completed in 1996 found that it's actually surprisingly common. Why wouldn't such a terrible disease have been "bred out" of our species long ago? The answer is that hemochromatosis reduces the amount of iron available to iron-loving bacteria, such as the bubonic plague that depopulated Europe in the mid-1300s. A person living in the Middle Ages with the hemochromatosis gene would have eventually died from iron build up, but in the meantime would have have had a smaller chance of dying from the plague and other iron-loving infections--in an age when few people lived past the age of 50, the disease resistance conferred by hemochromatosis far outweighed the disadvantage that would have materialized if the person carrying the gene had lived to old age. People with hemochromatosis reproduced and passed the gene one to their heirs; those without it died of the plague, without children.

"Survival of the Sickest" is filled with similarly surprising observations.
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Format: Paperback
We really don't "need" disease. This is a bit misleading. It just so happens that some genetic disorders, such as sickle-cell anemia, favism, diabetes, hemochromatosis, the tendency to obesity, etc., confer on the afflicted compensatory advantages. Thus a predilection for getting fat is adaptive if a drought or a long winter beckons, or a person with a genetic tendency toward sickle-cell anemia is less likely to get malaria, and so on. Note that it is only diseases caused by genetic mutations that Dr. Moalem is talking about.

One of the techniques our bodies use when fighting infection is to reduce the amount of iron available to the invaders. Bacteria need iron to reproduce. If there is a lot of it available their numbers can grow quickly. Without iron they can't reproduce at all. Iron is a limiting factor for many kinds of life. Vast stretches of ocean support little in the way of life because the microorganisms that begin the food chain can't grow where there is so little iron. As Dr. Moalem reports in this wide-ranging and eyebrow-lifting book, sprinkle some iron onto those patches of ocean and they will quickly turn green with microorganisms.

So it is a bit of an irony that people who have hemochromatosis, a genetic disorder that causes them to retain large amounts of iron in their bodies, are able to survival infections like the plague. This is because they starve the invading microbes through "iron locking." They have a lot of iron in their bodies, but they keep it away from the bacteria. Other people who have low levels of iron in their bodies are able to withstand bacterial attacks because they also keep what little iron they have away from the germs.
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Format: Paperback
I picked this up in Borders in Miami and read it before I came home. Not an obvious holiday read but absolutely fascinating to a kinesiologist (even complementary therapists ready stuff like this!).

It provides a really interesting perspective on how the diseases which plague us now actually helped our ancestors survive and there is a salutary warning about the link between too much iron in a person's bloodstream and Alzheimer's Disease. A touch of anaemia may not always be a bad thing!

It is written in a very easy style and flows very well. If you have any interest in health or medicine, read it!
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
An interesting book with some new and some old examples of evolutionary traits that have persisted to help protect us from disease despite causing problems at other times. However it is written in a very popular style that American readers seem to like but I found a bit childish and annoying.
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Format: Paperback
This book follows the trend of someone with a huge amount of specialised knowledge teaming up with a professional writer who can present the ideas in a breezy accessible style (think Freakonomics and you get the idea). In this case, the theme is evolution and how it impacts on humans and the organisms who share our bodies. Why, for instance, do severe illnesses keep getting passed down, when they seem to put their carriers at an evolutionary disadvantage? Moalem provides compelling evidence for thinking that this might not always be the case, hence the title. There is more to the book than that, but it makes an intriguing starting point for what follows. I was particularly interested in the short section on childbirth and why it is so difficult for humans, but every chapter was full of fascinating information presented in a way that a non-scientist like myself can readily understand.
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