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What are the Medical Consequences of Losing Polar Bears?

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Polar bears are one of the most iconic symbols of the Arctic. They are also a keystone species, meaning that they play a critical role in maintaining the delicate balance of their ecosystem. However, polar bear populations are declining at an alarming rate due to climate change and other human activities. While the loss of polar bears would certainly be a tragedy for the environment, it could also have serious medical consequences for humans.

The Importance of Polar Bears for Medical Research

Polar bears are unique creatures that have adapted to thrive in the extreme conditions of the Arctic. Their unique physiology and biology have made them a valuable subject of study for medical researchers. Scientists have already made significant discoveries about the ways that polar bears can survive in sub-zero temperatures and how they can cope with long periods of fasting.

These insights have helped researchers develop new treatments for human conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. For example, scientists have discovered that polar bears are able to lower their metabolic rate and reduce their insulin sensitivity during periods of fasting, which could provide valuable insights into how to treat diabetes. Losing polar bears would not only mean losing a fascinating species but also valuable opportunities for medical research.

The Health Risks of a World Without Polar Bears

Aside from their value for medical research, polar bears also play a crucial role in maintaining the health of their ecosystem. They are apex predators, meaning that they are at the top of the food chain, and help to regulate the populations of their prey species. Without polar bears, the populations of their prey, such as seals and walruses, could increase unchecked. This could lead to overfishing and overgrazing, which could ultimately lead to the collapse of entire ecosystems.

Additionally, the loss of polar bears could have direct health consequences for humans. Polar bears are known to carry a range of infectious diseases, including parasites and viruses, some of which can be transmitted to humans. As the Arctic warms and the range of polar bears expands, the risk of zoonotic diseases spreading to humans could increase. Losing polar bears could also have indirect health consequences by disrupting the delicate balance of the Arctic ecosystem and leading to the spread of other diseases.

Conclusion

The loss of polar bears would be a tragedy for many reasons. In addition to the environmental impacts, it could have serious medical consequences for humans as well. From the loss of valuable research opportunities to the spread of infectious diseases, the impact of polar bear extinction could be catastrophic. It is up to us to take action to protect this iconic species and the delicate ecosystem that they call home.

Aaron Bernstein, MD, MPH

Aaron Bernstein is the Interim Director of The Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment, a pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital, and an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics.

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