Our Primate Ancestors and Alcohol Consumption

By Andrew Curry, Writer [1]

From our modern point of view, ethanol has one very compelling property:  It makes us feel good.  Ethanol helps release serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins in the brain, chemicals that make us happy and less anxious.

To our fruit-eating primate ancestors swinging through the trees, however, the ethanol in rotting fruit would have had three other appealing characteristics:

  • It has a strong distinctive smell that makes the fruit easy to locate.
  • It’s easier to digest, allowing animals to get more of a commodity that was precious back then:  calories.
  • It’s antiseptic qualities repel microbes that might sicken a primate.

Millions of years ago one of them developed a taste for fruit that had fallen from the tree.  Accord to Nathaniel Dominy, a biological anthropologist at Dartmouth College:

Our ape ancestors started eating fermented fruits on the forest floor, and that made all the difference.  We’re preadapted for consuming alcohol.


[1] National Geographic, Feb 2017, p. 39

This entry was posted in Africa, Environment, great apes, Science and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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