25 Chronic Diseases that used to be Rare

Best estimates are that homo sapiens have been roaming the Earth for ~315K years. For >95% of that time we lived as hunter gatherers. In comparison to our paleolithic ancestors we suffer from a large number of diseases that used to be rare. How do we know that? Obviously there are no writings from that period to reference. We do have some evidence from fossil studies. Much of the evidence though comes from studying modern day hunter gatherers of which there are still a few remaining even in the modern world.

Here’s a brief list of some of those diseases. The list is not by any means comprehensive. I’ll be referencing this list in my upcoming TEDx talk. Many of my patients who suffer from these inevitably point to their family history resigned to the fact that it is just in “my genes”. While genetics plays a role, I can tell you that all the diseases below used to be rare. Some of these like diabetes which many accept as a normal part of aging were practically unheard of.

  • Major depressive disorder
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Colon cancer
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Insomnia
  • Gout
  • Arthritis
  • Hypertension
  • High Cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Alzheimer’s
  • Acne
  • Cavities
  • Dental malocclusion
  • Myopia
  • Acid reflux
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Osteoporosis
  • Stroke
  • Heart disease
  • Allergies
  • Breast cancer
  • Kidney disease
  • Low back pain

Someone is going to argue that our ancestors died too young to experience these ailments. After all, the average life expectancy in those days was only 30+ years.

While average life expectancy was indeed short, that was because of the high rates child mortality (and especially infant mortality). Nearly 50% of children died before age 15 years according to some estimates. However those who survived childhood often went on to live a long life. It was not uncommon to live to past 70 years if you survived childhood in hunter gatherer societies.


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