Stress, evolution, and disease

ScienceDaily has a good article profiling Robert Sapolsky's work on stress-mediated disease in wild baboons:

Why do humans and their primate cousins get more stress-related diseases than any other member of the animal kingdom? The answer, says Stanford University neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky, is that people, apes and monkeys are highly intelligent, social creatures with far too much spare time on their hands.
"Primates are super smart and organized just enough to devote their free time to being miserable to each other and stressing each other out," he said. "But if you get chronically, psychosocially stressed, you're going to compromise your health. So, essentially, we've evolved to be smart enough to make ourselves sick."

There's some simplification in the article, but it's a nice one for probing the relations between social life, evolution, and current-day chronic health problems.

But many of the qualities that make us human also can induce stress, he noted. "We can be pained or empathetic about somebody in Darfur," he said. "We can be pained by some movie character that something terrible happens to that doesn't even exist. We could be made to feel inadequate by seeing Bill Gates on the news at night, and we've never even been in the same village as him or seen our goats next to his. So the realm of space and time that we can extend our emotions means that there are a whole lot more abstract things that can make us feel stressed."

I'd like to see Bill Gates' goats.