Earlier this year, the news broke that 3,500-year-old mummies had vascular disease. Is it possible our modern diet and lifestyle don't have as much to do with our demise as we thought? After all, heart disease was around thousands of years ago. Well, the answer might surprise you.
The researchers in this case looked at 137 mummies that were as old as 3,500 years. They placed the mummies in a CT scanner, which showed calcifications in their arteries. Scientists used calcium build-up as a determiner of atherosclerosis, since plaque, soft stuff, would be long gone by now.
The researchers identified probable atherosclerosis in 34% of the mummies. BUT... only 4% had it in their coronaries (advanced disease). They saw the condition more often in those dying later in life, but was present in some who died in their 30s. Interestingly, Egyptian mummies aren't the only ones with atherosclerosis. The study also found it in the mummified bodies of pre-Columbian American Natives and 19th century Alaska natives.
Now let's take the study apart. Of the 51 ancient Peruvians (the oldest of the mummies), 25% had atherosclerosis in their mummies. At the same time, three of five Native Alaskans did. While a small sample, it says something. We presume that the latter ate a lot of meat and blubber as hunter-gatherers, while the former ate lots of beans and complex carbs from plants they grew. So we see a difference in those predominantly eating plants vs. animals.
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Also, while we do have ideas of what these people were eating, we don't know how they might have prepared it. Perhaps in meat-eating societies, they were exposing the meat/flesh directly to fire to cook it. The smoke would impregnate the meat with products of combustion, which are tasty but deadly.
Finally, there is no indication of the weight of the subjects at the zenith of their life. I can assure you that their insulin metabolism was identical to ours. Mummies often came from wealthy families that could afford to preserve or embalm their relatives. More money meant more food, which could easily translate to metabolic syndrome/diabetes in such individuals, even way back then.
Weston Price, DDS, the famous world-class researcher of the last century, gave us the most information on diet and disease. The aboriginal cultures he visited were largely devoid of the western maladies our civilizations were already facing. When he returned some 20 years later, their bodies were in a sordid mess. Teeth falling out, skeletal problems, vascular disease, and even husbands beating their wives. He pinned it to the introduction of the standard American diet (SAD).
Don't be misled by this research saying that atherosclerosis is something that you can't avoid. Eat more plants and avoid the disease altogether.