Do mummies’ clogged arteries cast doubt on “dangers” of modern diet?

A new study is out that shows even in the ancient societies of Egypt, the Andes and Alaska, they had problems with clogged arteries. While they were probably more physically active than many of us in the industrialized world are today, their diets still were causing problems.

John recently wrote about the dangers related to eating fish (mercury), and I followed up on the dangers of eating red meat and smoked meats. As a foodie, I find that it can be distressing at times reading these studies because every option seems to have plenty of pitfalls. I still eat fish, some red meat and bacon/sausages, but I simply try to eat them in moderation.

As someone said the other day in response to my smoked meat post, eat right, stay fit and die anyway.  The study raises a particularly good point – we were told that our modern porky ways were the problem with our health.  It seems the ancient ways weren’t much better. What did we have in common?  Our genes.  (Though it’s also possible that the two are unrelated – perhaps they had clogged arteries from different poor dietary reasons than ours.)

While the ancients were more active, they were also exposed to a lot more of the elements, which will take its toll on your lifespan. For anyone who has seen people that live without modern medicine, without what we call today a balanced diet and working outside, it’s clear that those people age faster and die younger.

King Tut via Shutterstock

King Tut via Shutterstock

Is this new study proof that no matter what we do, we’re all screwed? How about the previous studies that John and I wrote about? Is the answer to ignore the study results and eat a bad diet, or is the answer to pay attention and try to navigate it as best as you can?

The Sarah Palins and beyond of the world prefer to have a temper tantrum like a 10 year old and whine about the food police telling them what to do. Yeah, go clog your arteries  that’ll show ’em, Sarah! Making it a point to do the opposite of what scientific research has shown is childish, though quite Republican.

As someone who loves to cook and loves to eat, I find it’s always good to use a bit of common sense and go with everything in moderation. None of us really need to eat bacon or red meat or fish every day of the week, do we? We can still eat what we like, but use research like this to fine tune our diet to our healthy advantage.

More from NBC:

“The fact that we found similar levels of atherosclerosis in all of the different cultures we studied, all of whom had very different lifestyles and diets, suggests that atherosclerosis may have been far more common in the ancient world than previously thought,” says cardiologist Randall Thompson of of Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute in Kansas City, who led the study.

“A common assumption is that the rise in levels of atherosclerosis is predominantly lifestyle-related, and that if modern humans could emulate pre-industrial or even pre-agricultural lifestyles, that atherosclerosis, or at least its clinical manifestations, would be avoided,” Thompson added.

“Our findings seem to cast doubt on that assumption, and at the very least, we think they suggest that our understanding of the causes of atherosclerosis is incomplete, and that it might be somehow inherent to the process of human aging.”


An American in Paris, France. BA in History & Political Science from Ohio State. Provided consulting services to US software startups, launching new business overseas that have both IPO’d and sold to well-known global software companies. Currently launching a new cloud-based startup. Full bio here.

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