How Did Humans Start Taking Medicine? Chimp Behavior Gives Clues

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Credit: Chimpanzee photo via Shutterstock

How Did Humans Start Taking Medicine? Chimp Behavior Gives Clues

The study revealed chimps eat aboutِ twice asِ many unusual foods asِ gorillas do.
Researchers refer toِ foods thatِ areِ not a typical part ofِ anِ animal’s diet butِ areِ eaten onِ occasion asِ unusual, andِ believe suchِ foods areِ eaten forِ reasons otherِ than nutrition; someِ ofِ these foods containِ druglike compounds.
Further, theِ study showed whichِ social andِ physiological traits mayِ haveِ allowed theِ common ancestor ofِ humans andِ chimps toِ start usingِ plants asِ medications.

Both of these characteristics were observed among chimps in the study.

We couldِ think thatِ ourِ firstِ medication evolved inِ the human linage inِ the sameِ way thatِ we observe itsِ use] today inِ chimpanzees, saidِ study researcher Shelly Masi, ofِ the National Museum ofِ Natural History inِ Paris.
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Self-medication

Previous research hadِ suggested chimps sometimesِ eat foods withِ lowِ nutritional valueِ thatِ containِ druglike compounds, butِ why andِ how theyِ learn toِ doِ this isِ unknown.
Masi andِ colleagues observed a community ofِ 40 orِ so chimpanzees inِ Uganda forِ 11 months, andِ for comparison, a community ofِ aboutِ a dozen wild western gorillas inِ the Central African Republic forِ 10 months.
Moreover, manyِ of theseِ foods wereِ abundant inِ the chimps’ habitat — theِ fact thatِ these foods wereِ readily available, yetِ theِ animals consumed themِ sparingly suggested toِ theِ researchers thatِ the animals wereِ usingِ theِ plants asِ medication.

Food and medicine

The fact thatِ chimps rely moreِ on social information thanِ gorillas andِ that chimps tend toِ keepِ learning aboutِ unusal foods fromِ eachِ other duringِ adulthood, mayِ haveِ allowed themِ to makeِ a betterِ association betweenِ medicinal plants andِ particular health conditions, Masi said.
The guts ofِ chimps, likeِ those ofِ humans, areِ less able toِ detoxify harmful substances, theِ researchers said.
This cautiousness mayِ haveِ existed inِ anِ ancient ancestor ofِ humans andِ chimps, andِ led itِ to eat unusual foods specifically inِ association withِ certainِ stimuli (e.g.