ABSTRACT: Modern diseases of civilization cause great distress and reduce happiness, healthy longevity and productivity. Our presentation focuses on the basis for applying an evolutionary medicine framework to the treatment and prevention of mental health issues, as well as using the framework in a corporate environment to promote employee well-being. We discuss rationale, evidence, barriers, and a future trajectory for evolutionary medicine.
Part 1: Evolutionary Medicine and Mental Illness
The modern study and treatment of mental illness is based not on brain pathology of physiology, but research grants and pharmaceutical studies based on phenotypes described atheoretically in the DSM-IV. Applying an evolutionary medicine perspective to pathology in mental illness can help us better organize research and find physiologically meaningful paths to prevention and cure. Mental illness is strongly correlated with and is increasing much like other diseases of civilization such as type II diabetes, obesity and metabolic syndrome, and autoimmune disease. The underlying pathology is always inflammation. The interplay of the immune system, the gut, stress, genes, epigenetics, and environment contributes to the vulnerability of a particular person to mental illness. By decreasing food toxins and therefore decreasing inflammation and autoimmunity, being kind to our gut microflora, eating a nutrient-rich diet, and promoting periods of ketosis to help mitochondrial decommission and repair for better brain energy efficiency, we will theoretically increase our brain resiliency.
A more resilient brain will resist the toxic effects of external stressors, thus reducing the risk and severity of mental illness. Several lines of basic science evidence and some medical evidence give increasing support to the validity of this hypothesis, though much more research needs to be done. Emily Deans, M.D., a practicing psychiatrist and Clinical Instructor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, will review the pathologic basis of mental illness and the role of evolutionary medicine in its treatment.
Part 2: The Application of Evolutionary Biology to Corporate Health and Wellness Programmes
The typical corporate workplace offers almost the antithesis of an evolutionary appropriate environment for humans. The combination of economic reality requiring businesses to achieve more with less, and this evolutionary novel environment, can lead to levels of physical and mental stress which may pose a serious challenge to one’s resiliency to all of life’s daily pressures. As the workplace is often the environment where a large number of people spend most of their time, it leaves the workplace environment that best place to offer evolutionary appropriate strategies for improving an individual’s stress resiliency.
With workplace stress commonly cited as the biggest health issue within the workplace, conventional health programmes, with their focus on biometric screening and influenza vaccination programmes, are a flawed response to an issue that can have serious consequences to an individual’s physical and mental health if not appropriately addressed. A novel approach by comparison, addressing aspects of human biology, from an evolutionary perspective, can offer workplace health solutions that may increase an individual’s resiliency to the benefit of their health and to the company they work for.
New Zealand-based nutritionist, Jamie Scott, outlines how an evolutionary biology-approach to health and wellness is being applied in a workplace setting, and how this approach is assisting in optimising the physical and mental health of employees and their productivity in corporate life.
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