The conflict between our 'primitive' genes and 'modern' lifestyle probably lies at the root of several disorders that afflict modern man. Atherosclerosis, which is relatively unknown among contemporary hunter-gatherer populations, has reached pandemic proportions in recent times. Being an evolutionary problem with several inter-related pathologies, current therapeutic strategy for treating atherosclerosis has inherent limitations. Reviewing evolution-linked risk factors suggests that there are four aspects to the etiology of atherosclerosis namely, decreased intestinal parasitism, oversensitivity of evolutionarily redundant mast cells, chronic underactivation of AMPK (cellular energy sensor) and a deficiency of vitamin D. A combination of these four causes appear to have precipitated the atherosclerosis pandemic in modern times. Man and worms co-existed symbiotically in the past. Massive de-worming campaigns could have disrupted this symbiosis, increasing nutritional availability to man (pro-obesity) at the cost of decreased immunotolerance (pro-atherogenicity). A reduction in helminth-induced chronic TH2 activation could also have enhanced TH1 polarization, eventually disrupting the reciprocal regulation of TH1/TH2 balance and resulting in atherosclerosis. The riddance of helminth infestations may have rendered mast cells immunologically redundant, making them oversensitive to inflammatory stimuli, thereby playing a pro-atherogenic role. AMPK activation exerts pleiotropic anti-atherogenic effects, such as suppression of fatty acid, cholesterol, protein synthesis, reduction of vascular smooth muscle proliferation, etc. As energy deficit is the chief stimulus for AMPK activation, the over-nourished modern man appears to be suffering from chronic underactivation of AMPK, legitimising the unrivalled supremacy of metformin, the oldest prescribed antidiabetic drug. The fact that humans evolved in the sunny tropics suggests that humans are selected for high vitamin D levels. Vitamin D deficiency is now linked to several conditions including increased risk of CV disorders, diabetes, etc. The manifold decrease in vitamin D levels in modern man justifies a need for supplementation. We therefore hypothesize that a judicious combination of mast cell stabilization, AMPK activation, vitamin D supplementation, and moderation in hygiene practices could be an evolution-based multimodal strategy for both preventing and mitigating the pandemic of atherosclerosis.
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