We hypothesize that many ailments are attributable to dysfunctions of autonomic balance. The autonomic system is a primitive, highly-adaptive response system that allows differential allocation of biologic effort under varying conditions. The autonomic system, however, can execute a response that is inappropriate for the system stressor due to evolutionary displacement. Evolutionary displacement is a situation in which a trait that evolved as an adaptive response to certain conditions now faces a new set of conditions. Modern human evolution since the Pleistocene era is characterized by substantial evolutionary displacement, brought on in large part by the accelerating ability of humans to change their own environment. In the setting of evolutionary displacement, previously adaptive systems such as the autonomic system can be rendered unhelpful or even counterproductive. Emergence of chronic conditions, maladaptation of the trauma response, and extension of human lifespan are examples of evolutionary displacements that can induce inappropriate sympathetic bias in hosts. We postulate that many diseases are manifestations of this general phenomenon. Implications for existing and future therapeutic strategies are discussed.
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