One of the First Readers expressed surprise that improved quality of life—at least with regard to energy intake—can simultaneously lead to an increased risk of cancer.
It is, without a doubt, counterintuitive to think having access to more food and nutrients can also have negative consequences for the human body. Although, this fact quite perfectly gets at the heart of what evolution is all about. In a sense, the logic of “no good deed goes unpunished” applies here: for every good adaptation, there is always cost. In the case of the relationship between energy intake and reproductive cancers, it is that more energy is being funneled into pumping up gonadal hormones levels that, down the line, may increase risk of developing diseases such as breast and ovarian cancer.
Although the Jasienska article didn’t address it directly with data, it is likely that the so-called “secular trend” (the decrease in age at first menarche in girls living in industrialized nations) is also feeding into the trend toward an increased risk of reproductive cancers. The culprit, however, still seems to be an increase in energy intake coupled with a rise in rates of physical inactivity.
Trying to find the best lifestyle to decrease one’s risk for these sorts of health issues may often seem as though you’re making the best of a bad situation. But if there’s anything we can learn from the impartial process of evolution, it’s the tradeoffs are just a fact of life.