Fascinating article, not irrelevant to what we're doing here. Hope you enjoy this as much as we did.
BY JASON KOEBLER | 1 December 2014
Our ancestors were likely getting drunk as far back as 10 million years ago, a new study suggests.
According to an analysis of the ADH4 gene, one that is important in the digestion of ethanol, Matthew Carrigan of Santa Fe College in Gainesville, Florida, believes that the gene existed in the shared ancestors of humans, apes and chimpanzees,
The evolution of the gene coincided with the time that early hominids moved from living primarily in trees to living on the ground. These hominids went from eating ripening or ripe fruit to eating the often fermented or fermenting fruit that had fallen to the ground.
“Fruit collected from the forest floor is expected to contain higher concentrations of fermenting yeast and ethanol than similar fruits hanging on trees,” says Carrigan. “This transition may also be the first time our ancestors were exposed to (and adapted to) substantial amounts of dietary ethanol.”
Hence, the evolutionary hangover.
There are two ways of looking at Carrigan’s findings. First, processing alcohol was a random, useless mutation that developed in early hominids millions of years ago that didn’t become useful until humans started getting drunk on purpose. Second, it played an important evolutionary role. Carrigan argues for the latter, that alcohol likely played a nutritionally important role in the lives of our ancestors.
That’s where the fruit-on-the-ground scenario comes in.
“The transition to an increasingly terrestrial life would likely have exposed [our ancestors] to fruit with higher ethanol content. In this context, the increased activity of ethanol-metabolizing enzymes could provide a selective advantage, particularly during a time of large-scale ecological transitions and extinctions brought about by climate change,” he wrote.
In other words, animals that could eat alcoholic fruits without getting sick or dying were better suited to survive. It’s an idea that’s been put forth before, several times. But the history of the ADH4 gene is some of the first hard proof we have.
So, what the heck does this 10-million-year-old adaptation mean to you and me? Quite a lot, actually. Cardigan muses that the ethanol found in ancient fermented fruit is “remarkably similar in concentration and form to the moderate ethanol consumption now recognized to be healthy for many humans.”
He also suggests that various mutations and variations in ADH4 expression, many of which have not yet been characterized by science, “may play an important role in the variability of human ethanol metabolism and risk for developing alcoholism or ethanol-related cancers of the upper gastrointestinal tract.”
Though some scientists did believe that our ancestors had developed the ability to process alcohol, they believed that this came after humans had starting fermenting alcohol only 9,000 years ago. Carrigan has largely disproved this. “Alcoholism as a disease [would] reflect insufficient time since humans first encountered ethanol for their genome to have adapted completely to ethanol.”
Instead, today’s alcoholics could be overly attracted to ethanol because being able to metabolise it was once a very beneficial trait. With alcohol (and food) being plentiful these days, it is no longer evolutionarily advantageous.
“In this version [of history], our contemporary attraction to ethanol is an ‘evolutionary hangover’ that ceased to be beneficial once that attraction became redirected to beverages with high concentrations of ethanol,” he wrote.
BY ANGUS BURTON for SPIRIT PEOPLE
What a fascinating read from Vice Magazine's Motherboard news site concerning the evolutionary history of humans' ability to digest alcohol.
There are a couple of great takeaways from this. First of all, considering that we are "meant" to use alcohol - without allowing alcohol to "use" us. Whether we do or not is a choice to make ourselves.
Considering the natural state of alcohol in these rotting fruits, I'm sure that you could still get roaring drunk and suffer from ferocious hangovers, but the nature of alcohol being a food source in this context means that your ancestors would be unlikely to overindulge. There would just be too much fruit to eat before you became twisted.
Also consider the nutrition in eating the whole fruit. We're huge supporters of chefs and vintners who ferment whole and organic fruit, vegetables and grains - the bioavailabilty of the nutritive elements of the food is just enhanced so much by fermentation.
When fermentation is taken out of any natural context and utilised in producing a commodity such as, say, a Heineken, there's no nutrition left in there. It's just plain old alcohol and a little flavour. The rest is filtered out, so that beer gets straight into your body and you're left struggling the next day to replenish minerals, vitamins, fats, fibres etc.
Where does that leave us with distilled spirits? Well, distillation is the ultimate filtration, we don't deny that at all. And we've definitely experimented with overindulgence. (Not good, for any kids out there.)
So with spirits, you'd better make sure you're drinking something worth experiencing. You have to be able to savour the spirit, in the company and context that you're in, whether that be grappa at the farm, mezcal in the desert, or whisky at home in front of the fire. Laughing, crying, dancing, or at the very least feeling something, is better than drinking for drinking's sake, or worse, drinking because it looks cool.
Screw that. Make it worth it.