Comment: new article on mummies and their arteries

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new article on mummies and their arteries

Calcifications of Mummies’ Arteries Due to Meat in Their Diet

“Atherosclerosis across 4000 years of human history: the Horus study of four ancient populations,” by Randall C. Thompson in the April 6, 2013 issue of the medical journal the Lancet, found that, “Atherosclerosis was common in four pre-industrial populations including pre-agricultural hunter-gatherers. Although commonly assumed to be a modern disease, the presence of atherosclerosis in pre-modern human beings raises the possibility of a more basic predisposition to the disease.”1 The article ends with an erroneous statement: “The presence of atherosclerosis in pre-modern human beings suggests that the disease is an inherent component of human ageing and not characteristic of any specific diet or lifestyle.”

Using high-tech computer technology with x-rays, a method called Computed Tomography (CT) scanning, investigators examined the preserved remains of mummies from Egyptian, Peruvian, Puebloan (from the southwest US), and Unangan (Inuit Eskimos from Aleutian Islands of modern day Alaska) populations. Mummies from all four regions showed disease. Of 137 bodies examined, 47 (34%) had probable or definite atherosclerosis; over an estimated age of 40, half had atherosclerosis.
Investigators provided information in this article about the diets of all four populations. Note that all, as hunter-gatherers, consumed animal foods:

Egyptians: Cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, hyenas, ducks, geese, quails, pheasants, and fish.
Peruvians: Alpaca, guinea pigs, ducks, Andean deer, birds, crayfish, and fish.
Puebloans: Rabbits, mice, big horn sheep, mule deer, and fish.
Unangans: Seals, sea lions, sea otters, whales, shellfish, sea urchins, eggs, and fish.

Except for the Unangans, the diets of these ancient people also contained important amounts of starches, vegetables, and fruits.

Finding calcium with CT scanning is considered pathognomonic for atherosclerosis, the most common kind of artery damage. (Pathognomonic means a sign or symptom of a disease that is so characteristic that it can be used to make a diagnosis.) Among modern people who follow the high-meat Western diet, calcification is ubiquitous in men by the age of 60 years and in women by 70 years.

Comment: People love to hear good news about their bad habits, and publication of this headline-grabbing article put the roast-beef sandwich back on the “guilt-free foods” list for many. These investigators reached a commonly held belief that dying from complications of atherosclerosis is an inevitable consequence of natural aging (with a little bad luck and genetics). Although with advancing age artery damage does become more common and severe, this disease also affects the very young. Autopsy data from American casualties of the Korean and Vietnam wars found atherosclerosis in 77% and 45%, respectively, of young men, with severe disease in 5%.2,3 A large autopsy study in the US of accident victims, aged 15–19 years, found atherosclerosis in the aortas in all of the remains, with heart (coronary artery) lesions in more than half.4 This extent of disease is typically only found in people following a diet high in meat. Similar examinations of the arteries of populations following diets with much less meat (and more starch), such as the Japanese, show healthier arteries at all ages.5 (Dairy, which I refer to as “liquid meat,” and synthetic trans-fats, also play a major role in modern day atherosclerosis.)

All four ancient populations, whose remains were reported on in the current Lancet study, consumed animal foods. Accurate written records of actual dietary habits are available only for the Egyptians. Hieroglyphic inscriptions on temple walls indicate that the royalty regularly consumed beef, sheep, goats, wild fowl, bread, and cake. A conservative estimate is that the diet of the privileged few who were mummified—the kings, queens, priests, and priestesses—was more than 50% fat, with a significant portion being saturated fat (from meat)—these fat figures are the same as those for the diets of modern Western people.

The diet of the people living in what is now known as Alaska was undoubtedly almost exclusively from animal foods—little else was available in their harsh winter environment for seven months of the year. What exactly the inhabitants of ancient Peru and those of southwestern US (Puebloans) ate centuries ago is up to speculation. However, meat must have been present at some periods of their lives in amounts sufficient to cause inflammation of their arteries, leaving the fingerprints of calcification.

Examination of the few hunter-gatherer populations surviving into modern times further establishes the “meat connection” to atherosclerosis. Researchers find that recently living, primitive-people who base their diets on animal flesh, such as the Inuits (Eskimos), suffer from heart disease and other forms of atherosclerosis; whereas those, such as the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico and numerous rural pastoral societies in Africa, who base their diets on plant foods (starches), are free of these diseases.6

CT scanning of modern-day people worldwide demonstrates dramatic differences in artery health, which can only be due to their eating habits and not due to their genetics. For example, the Japanese living in Japan, who consume a starch (rice)-based, low-meat diet, show calcification of the aorta half as often (36% vs. 69%) as do Japanese-Americans, whose diet is much more meat-based.6 Furthermore, calcification of the coronary (heart) arteries is strikingly lower among the native Japanese compared to Americans (13% vs. 47%).7

Most importantly, this Lancet study of atherosclerosis across 4000 years of human history of four ancient populations proves that “it’s the food.” You have heard the phrase “diet and lifestyle” in reference to the cause of common modern diseases, such as atherosclerosis. “Lifestyle” specifically refers to lack of exercise, the habit of cigarette smoking, and the burdens of various stresses associated with present-day living. These ancient people had none of these negative “lifestyle” factors affecting them, which leaves only their diet. “Lifestyle” is the scapegoat for people wanting to avoid the truth about the meat on their dinner table.

-From Mcdougall newsletter.

1) Thompson RC, Allam AH, Lombardi GP, Wann LS, Sutherland ML, Sutherland JD, Soliman MA, Frohlich B, Mininberg DT, Monge JM, Vallodolid CM, Cox SL, Abd el-Maksoud G, Badr I, Miyamoto MI, el-Halim Nur el-Din A, Narula J, Finch CE, Thomas GS. Atherosclerosis across 4000 years of human history: the Horus study of four ancient populations. Lancet. 2013 Apr 6;381(9873):1211-22. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(13)60598-X.

2) Joseph A, Ackerman D, Talley JD, Johnstone J, Kupersmith J. Manifestations of coronary atherosclerosis in young trauma victims—an autopsy study. J Am Coll Cardiol 1993; 22: 459–67.

3) Virmani R, Robinowitz M, Geer JC, Breslin PP, Beyer JC, McAllister HA. Coronary artery atherosclerosis revisited in Korean war combat casualties. Arch Pathol Lab Med 1987; 111: 972–76.

4) Strong JP, Malcom GT, McMahan CA, et al. Prevalence and extent of atherosclerosis in adolescents and young adults: implications for prevention from the Pathobiological Determinants of Atherosclerosis in Youth Study. JAMA 1999; 281: 727–35.

5) Imakita M, Yutani C, Strong JP, Sakurai I, Sumiyoshi A, Watanabe T, Mitsumata M, Kusumi Y, Katayama S, Mano M, Baba S, Mannami T, Masuda J, Sueishi K, Tanaka K. Second nation-wide study of atherosclerosis in infants, children and young adults in Japan. Atherosclerosis. 2001 Apr;155(2):487-97.

6) Ströhle A, Wolters M, Hahn A. Carbohydrates and the diet-atherosclerosis connection--more between earth and heaven. Comment on the article “The atherogenic potential of dietary carbohydrate.” Prev Med. 2007 Jan;44(1):82-4; author reply 84-5.

7) El-Saed A, Curb JD, Kadowaki T, Okamura T, Sutton-Tyrrell K, Masaki K, Seto TB, Takamiya T, Choo J, Edmundowicz D, Evans RW, Fujiyoshi A, Nakamura Y, Miura K, Shin C, Kuller LH, Ueshima H, Sekikawa A. The prevalence of aortic calcification in Japanese compared to white and Japanese-American middle-aged men is confounded by the amount of cigarette smoking. Int J Cardiol. 2012 Jan 10.

8) Sekikawa A, Ueshima H, Zaky WR, Kadowaki T, Edmundowicz D, Okamura T, Sutton-Tyrrell K, Nakamura Y, Egawa K, Kanda H, Kashiwagi A, Kita Y, Maegawa H, Mitsunami K, Murata K, Nishio Y, Tamaki S, Ueno Y, Kuller LH. Much lower prevalence of coronary calcium detected by electron-beam computed tomography among men aged 40–49 in Japan than in the US, despite a less favorable profile of major risk factors. Int J Epidemiol. 2005 Feb;34(1):173-9.