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

  1. hauksdottir says:

    What carrot-pear-ginger soup recipe? Link, please?

  2. bejammin075 says:

    Maximize your intake of minimally processed, well-washed, (preferably organic) vegetables. Include the other plant sources (seeds, nuts, fruits). Eliminate all meats, except I’m not sure about some fish and eggs. Don’t eat candy or processed foods. Avoid exposure to possibly harmful chemicals, such as don’t microwave your food in plastic or styrofoam containers. Drink lots of water and green tea. That’s all you need to know.

  3. Lthomas320 says:

    “None of the cultures was known to be vegetarian.” And there you have it. It’s simpler than you think.

    There are numerous YouTube presentations by Neal Barnard, John McDougall, T. Colin Campbell, Dean Ornish, Caldwell Esselstyn and others explaining how and why dietary fat and cholesterol clog human arteries and cause diabetes. Neal Barnard describes his approach to tackling Type 2 diabetes here:

  4. Asterix says:

    You *may* see 90. I’ve lost friends right after they turned 50 to issues as bizarre as early onset Alzheimer’s and stroke. I know people who are 200 lbs. overweight and have been so for decades, who have terrible diets and are doing fine at 88. Genes matter I think, more than anything else.

  5. karmanot says:

    When it comes to mummies ask Joan Rivers.

  6. OtterQueen says:

    Chris – I’ve been meaning to thank you for the carrot-pear-ginger soup recipe. Along with everything else we use carrots for, my husband and I now go through about 5 lbs of carrots a week thanks to this deliciousness. I top it off with some creme fraiche laced with a little fresh ginger and allspice. I don’t know if it’s helping my arteries at all, but I believe I spotted a comet today at sunset! ;)

  7. nicho says:

    They ate grains. Grains = sugar. Sugar = clogged arteries. Fat is not the culprit.

  8. bkmn says:

    People in power eat the “best of the best” which often includes the richest tasting foods you could ever eat…it is not surprising that their arteries were clogged with cholesterol.

  9. Icarus Penguin says:

    As higher class Egyptians, would not have had access to a variety of unhealthy foodstuffs, and be subjected to a great deal more incense smoke than poorer Egyptians?

  10. Straightnotnarrow says:

    While atherosclerotic heart disease is a risk factor, plaque rupture is what leads to occlusion and infarction (tissue death). The likelihood of plaque rupture is related to age of the lesion (ie younger plaques are less mature and MORE likely to rupture) genetic predisposition to aggressive clot formation, and even bacterial colonization (ie we culture certain oral bacteria out of these ruptured clots and factors such as smoking, diet, and dental hygiene all have an impact on the bugs in your mouth). The bottom line is there are many factors that lead to disease and the real important thing to look at is age of onset and quality of life. Eat what you enjoy, maintain a reasonable weight and level of activity, and I will see you at age 90 instead of 55 having your heart attack and at which point we can talk about the merits of therapy versus a natural course of disease.

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