12 Infographics That Explain Why We Get Sick

human-body-systemsMy impression is that the vast majority of people view medicine as a confusing and very complicated field. They don’t know much about human biology, physiology, or evolution and have been led to believe that there doesn’t exist such a thing as a conceptual framework or model that can explain why we get sick. This belief has likely been imprinted in their mind via the mainstream press, which constantly puts out conflicting and poorly researched news stories about health and nutrition, and the general medical establishment, which largely focuses on the molecular mechanisms underlying disease, while often paying little attention to the root causes of illness.

Making sense of the chaos

Not everyone views medicine this way though. If you ask an evolutionary biologist or Darwinian medicine specialist about what the origins and causes of diseases such as colon cancer, cardiovascular disease, and myopia are, he or she will likely tell you that there’s always going to be an evolutionary explanation for why we get sick. Diseases don’t just appear out of nowhere; they develop for a reason. Sometimes, this reason is easy to find, whereas other times, we have to do some serious digging before we hit gold. In the end, though, the evolutionary route always tends to yield fruits.

I acknowledge that many of the evolutionary theories and concepts I talk about here on the blog may seem foreign and complicated to a lot of people, in particular those who are new to Darwinian medicine. In order to simplify things, I thought I’d share a collection of infographics that help explain some of the key concepts of this emerging medical discipline. My experience is that it’s usually much easier and quicker to make sense of something if it’s presented in a figure or model, than if it’s presented in a long, complex article.

My main goal with this article is to show that in order to understand medicine, we must first understand evolution. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that if we don’t appreciate the importance of evolutionary theories, we’ll never be able to make sense of why we get sick. In today’s article I’ve decided to focus primarily on evolutionary mismatches, as I consider mismatch theory to be on top of the list of things that one has to know about in order to understand why we get sick. (This is not to say that other theories and concepts (e.g., trade-offs) aren’t important)

Okay, with that said, let’s get to it…

1. The Etiology, Prevention, and Treatment of the Diseases of Civilization: A Darwinian Conceptual Framework

Creator: Eirik Garnas
The Etiology, Prevention, and Treatment of the Diseases of Civilization: A Darwinian Conceptual Framework


2. Man’s microbiological history

Creator: Graham Rook
99th Dahlem Conference on Infection, Inflammation and Chronic Inflammatory Disorders: Darwinian medicine and the ‘hygiene’ or ‘old friends’ hypothesis


3. Diagrammatic overview of the current mechanisms for macro-components of the modern diet altering susceptibility to infection, allergy, and autoimmunity

Creator: Ian A. Myles
Source: Fast food fever: reviewing the impacts of the Western diet on immunity


4. The multiple-hit hypothesis for how the microbiota of industrialized societies has lost diversity over time

Creators: Erica D. Sonnenburg and Justin L. Sonnenburg
Starving our Microbial Self: The Deleterious Consequences of a Diet Deficient in Microbiota-Accessible Carbohydrates


5. How the Modern Lifestyle Wreaks Havoc on the Microbiome

Creator: Eirik Garnas
How the Modern Lifestyle Wreaks Havoc on the Microbiome


6. A simplified schematic illustration hypothesizing how environmental factors such as physical inactivity may influence gene expression

Creators: Frank W. Booth, Manu V. Chakravarthy, and Espen W. Spangenburg
Exercise and gene expression: physiological regulation of the human genome through physical activity


7. The Paleo-deficit disorder

Creators: Alan C. Logan, Martin A. Katzman, and Vicent Balanzá-Martínez
Natural environments, ancestral diets, and microbial ecology: is there a modern “paleo-deficit disorder”? Part II


8. Evolutionary foundations for cancer biology

Creators: C. Athena Aktipis and Randolph M. Nesse
Evolutionary foundations for cancer biology

9. The Evolution of the Human Diet: From Wild Meat, Fruits, and Tubers to Candy, Donuts, and Pizza

Creator: Eirik Garnas
The Evolution of the Human Diet: From Wild Meat, Fruits, and Tubers to Candy, Donuts, and Pizza


10. The loop effect of modern (A) and Paleolithic (B) diet on adipogenesis, osteoblastogenesis, and osteoclastogenesis

Creators: Jasminka Z. Ilich , Owen J. Kelly, Youjin Kim, and Maria T. Spicer
Low-grade chronic inflammation perpetuated by modern diet as a promoter of obesity and osteoporosis


11. Nutrition and inflammation

Creators: Margarethe M. Bosma-den Boer, Marie-Louise van Wetten, and Leo Pruimboom
Chronic inflammatory diseases are stimulated by current lifestyle: how diet, stress levels and medication prevent our body from recovering


12. 10 Diseases Caused by Evolutionary Mismatches

Creator: Eirik Garnas
10 Diseases Caused by Evolutionary Mismatches

Picture: Designed by Freepik


  1. Infographic 11 has tomatoes in the harmful saponins column. I’m curious because this isn’t the first time I’ve seen tomatoes get a negative connotation. I’ve heard an alternative cancer protocol that tells people to avoid them, and more recently Tom Brady’s nutritionist says he doesn’t eat tomatoes. Am I missing something? I thought they were a good vegetable, and lycopene was a cool guy. Can you share your thoughts Eirik?

    • Hi Dan,

      No, you’re not missing something. I agree with the vast majority of the statements expressed via the infographics in this post (if I hadn’t, I never would have put up a post with these infographics); however, there are a few that I’m not completely on board with, such as the one on tomatoes that you mention. I have nothing against tomatoes. I eat them regularly myself 🙂 In general, I think the dangers of nightshades have been overblown. I suspect that the key to overcoming “nightshade intolerance” isn’t to avoid nightshades, but rather to fix the gut/microbiota. This strategy may not work for all of the people out there who claim to have a problem with nightshades, but it will probably work in many cases.

  2. Red meat and saturated fat causing dysbiosis? Um. NO.

Leave a Reply


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers: