From useless wisdom teeth to painful spines, the human body is filled with evidence that evolution is not always kind or helpful. For example, our bony, flexible …
Millions of years ago, wisdom
teeth were dead useful.
Those hefty molars helped
us grind up fibrous veggies.
Then, around 1 million
to 2 million years ago,
we invented cooking,
which softened food so we
didn't need to chew as much.
That put wisdom teeth out of a job.
Around 10,000 years ago,
we began to farm and
cook our food even more.
With less work to do,
our powerful jaws shrank,
making it harder for those extra teeth
to fit in our mouths.
And today, we suffer the consequences.
Gum infection, tooth decay, even tumors.
But, unfortunately, annoying extra molars
aren't the only way
evolution screwed us over.
All primates, including humans,
have something in common:
We have incredibly bony feet.
Each one contains 26 bones.
Together, that's almost a quarter
of all the bones in our body.
Now, this foot design makes perfect sense
to our ancient primate ancestors,
because all those tiny moving parts
made their feet flexible
enough to cling to branches.
But here's the problem:
Once our ancestors left the trees
and started walking upright,
we needed a more rigid,
stable foot to balance
and propel ourselves from
one step to the next.
We didn't lose a single bone.
The result? Our feet are too flexible,
and they can easily twist the wrong way,
which leads to all sorts
of foot-related ailments,
like sprains, stress
fractures, and tendonitis.
If that's not bad enough,
walking upright also messed up our spine.
In animals that walk on all fours,
the spine arches like a bridge,
which helps support the weight
of their internal organs dangling beneath.
Then, 6 million years ago,
our ancestors first stood up
and forced that smooth
arch into an S shape.
The top is curved outward to
support the weight of our head,
and the bottom is curved inward
to keep our torso in line with our feet,
so we can balance.
Unfortunately, this
design isn't very sound.
That bend in our lower back
puts a tremendous amount of
pressure on our backbone.
So it's no wonder that 60%
to 70% of people worldwide
experience lower-back pain
sometime in their life.
Speaking of pain, let's talk about
getting hit in the testicles.
Unlike most of your organs,
they hang outside your body,
so they aren't protected
by muscles, fat, and bone,
which makes them a prime target
for incoming soccer balls.
So why are we, and many other mammals,
stuck with such a risky arrangement?
Well, it turns out, sperm are healthiest
when they're stored in a cool place.
So we hold them as far away
from the body as possible
to keep them a few extra
degrees below body temperature.
And humans have it especially bad.
Since we walk upright, gravity pulls
on our exposed testes,
which can lead to a potentially
excruciating condition
called inguinal hernia.
And while this might feel
like the worst thing ever,
other evolutionary quirks can be deadly.
Take the dangerous way
our throat is structured.
It contains two important tubes,
the trachea, or windpipe,
where air travels,
and the esophagus, where food travels.
These pipes are nestled so close together,
it's just plain stupid.
Because when you swallow,
food can slip into your
windpipe and block airflow,
causing you to choke or suffocate.
Every year, about 5,000 Americans die
by choking on food.
Meanwhile, other animals have
a more sensible arrangement,
where their windpipe and esophagus
are far away from each other.
So, why don't we have that setup?
Well, by sticking the pipes together,
we can open up extra space in our throats,
which acts like an echo chamber
to amplify sound to help us talk.
But evolution doesn't always
come with a silver lining.
In the 18th century, millions of sailors
suffered from a horrible
disease called scurvy.
Their gums would swell and bleed
as their skin disintegrated
and their brains decayed.
The culprit?
Away from shore for months on end,
the sailors had no access to
fresh fruits and vegetables,
key sources of vitamin C,
which plays a crucial role in how our body
repairs damaged tissue, bone, and nerves.
Now, humans, along with other apes,
guinea pigs, some bats, birds, and fish,
are the only animals that
would ever have this problem,
because everyone else can
produce their own vitamin C,
no oranges needed.
Meanwhile, humans have a gene mutation
that prevents us from doing the same.
Which normally wouldn't be a problem
for our ancient, fruit-eating ancestors,
who didn't trap themselves on ships
without fresh fruit for months.
Now, there doesn't seem to be
any benefit to this mutation,
which just goes to show,
evolution isn't always helpful.
In fact, it can make
life a whole lot worse.

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