Humans Are Tropical Animals – Isn’t It Obvious? In the great discussion on evolution in general, there’s one factor that I’d like to elaborate on just a bit. A lot of people seem to think that the human animal is so adaptable and flexible in it’s ways, that it has indeed adapted to living almost anywhere on the globe.
«Just look at the Inuits!» they say, «or the whole of Europe for that matter. We’ve evolved to live in these climates.». But here’s the thing – we haven’t! What we’ve done is adapt the environment around us to suit our needs and preferences, not the other way around. In a way, we never left the tropical environment at all, we took it with us wherever we went!
Where do we come from? Even though there’s still a lot of pieces missing from the great puzzle of human evolution, there seems to be a general consensus that modern humans, and their ancestors, originated in the tropical regions of equatorial Africa. The area today known as Ethiopia is often touted as the birthplace of man.
For millions of years “we” evolved in these tropical regions, as fruit eating primates. The question is – what happened when we left «home» and headed out on our grand adventure to explore the far reaches of this earth?
Going North As we went north, we had to deal with colder temperatures and harsh weather. Normally, environmental pressure stimulates evolution by allowing those that happen to have an beneficial adaptation to the new environment proliferate, while everyone else essentially dies out. But with us, something interesting occurred – at least in the sense of adapting to the cold. Because of our intelligence, we used tools like fire, clothing and shelter to adapt the environment to our liking. We didn’t have to grow hardier and more cold tolerant over hundreds of thousands of years, even millions, in order to survive the northern cold – we simply moved wherever we wanted to and used tools to be able to do so.
Sure, there has been some adaptations taking place over the last 100 000 years to allow for living in a non tropical climate. Skin color is an example. As we moved away from the equatorial sun, our skin grew lighter to absorb more of the sunlight. The further north you go, the whiter skin the population will have. There has probably been some slight adaptations to the cold as well, but still to this day – no human can survive the winter in Norway without the help of clothes, heating and a house!
Our Houses are Tropical Year Round Just like greenhouses are kept hot for the plants to thrive, we build our houses to support optimal conditions for human health. If we take clothing, that helps us tolerate cold to some degree, out of the equation, most people would agree that the ideal range is somewhere between 24 and 27 degrees Celsius for a naked body. Interestingly enough, this is pretty much the exact range of temperatures that exist in the tropical rain forests that we spent most of our evolutionary past in.
As we moved out of the forest, and into the open grasslands, and from there on to conquer the world, we simply brought our favorite conditions with us at all times, by making clothes, fires and houses!
Isn’t it absolutely obvious? We fill our houses with tropical and subtropical plants, we turn on the heating when it get’s cold, we insulate the walls to keep the heat in and we walk around in clothes that maintain our body temperature just where we like it. We are tropical animals, living in the «all the wrong places»!
How To Thrive Outside The Tropics Now, one thing is survival, but thriving is another thing altogether. Can we truly ever thrive while living outside our natural habitat in the tropics? Can our tools truly save us? It’s a question to ponder for sure. I can’t say that I’ve made up my mind completely, but I’m skeptical. There’s more to this equation than just temperature. There’s the tropical day/night cycle of 12 hours/12 hours. There’s the fact that we are frugivores and our optimal food grows in the tropics and subtropics – not in temperate climates. There’s the problems associated with wearing clothing and breathing indoor air. There’s the lack of adequate sun exposure both in terms of our hormones, but also vitamin D.
I’m sure there are more reasons why, physically speaking, we compromise our health by moving far away from the tropics – but there’s more to life than physical health! We are cultural animals too! We’ve grown fond of the northern seasons, the cold winds and the beautiful landscapes. We’ve got our friends and family here. We have grown roots. We can’t just all move back to the tropics can we? Well, if we want to we can, but most people won’t, not even me – at least not permanently.
So how do we proceed from here? We enjoy what we’ve got and where we are, while striving to mimic the conditions optimal for our health. We can optimize the temperature in our houses at all times to avoid being too hot or too cold. We can do our best to have fresh air inside our homes as much of the time as possible. We can be conscious of how much sunlight we’re getting. We can base our diet around imported, tropical fruits. We can manipulate the lighting in our home as evening approaches. We can optimize our bedroom for perfect sleep. There are countless ways we can improve and optimize the conditions around us to provide our body with exactly what it needs, when it needs it.
We will probably never be able to achieve optimal health while living in a temperate climate, but we can get pretty close – as long as we remember that we are indeed tropical animals and that the model to follow is the tropical one.
The further north (or south from the equator) you go, the harder it will be to provide those ideal conditions, and it might even be near impossible during the deepest of winter. I highly recommend spending at least this part of the year somewhere closer to our ancestral home in the tropics in order to provide your body with that much needed sunlight and fresh fruit.
In the end it’s a personal choice; to what degree you choose to honor your physical body and provide it with the best conditions for optimal health. That being said, just knowing that we are indeed a tropical animal, makes a big difference in your chances of success wherever you are because that awareness will allow you to tailor your environment to suit your needs – wherever you are!
The information in this article reflects the views and opinions of the author and is intended for educational and informational purposes only. This is not medical advice. We are not responsible for any action you may take based on the information given in this article. For medical advice please see your medical professional.