Calification (hardening of the arteries) can start in childhood. Check out the article, "Cholesterol and Atherosclerosis in Children." And those who lived the longest (centenarians) often have a gene that produces a high HDL (the good) cholesterol level.
Now a new study presented on March 10, 2013 in San Francisco at the American College of Cariodogy meeting and published online by the Lancet shows that mummies thousands of years old from a variety of locations had hardening of the arteries. But only four percent of those mummies had hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) in the coronary arteries, where it could cause heart attacks.
The condition probably had been inherited, and it didn't make a difference whether the diet emphasized meat and seafood in the Arctic, beans and grains in pre-Columbian Latin America, or the grain, fish, fruit, butter, cheese, bread, and beer/wine diet of ancient Egypt, according to the March 11, 2013 news release, "Even Mummies Had Clogged Arteries | TIME.com."
The study documenting hardened arteries among ancient mummies suggests that factors such as genes rather than exercise or diets may be contributing to the buildup of plaque in blood vessels. Check out the article, "Ancient Egyptian princess now known to be first person in human history with diagnosed coronary artery disease." Also see, Tobacco and cocaine in Egyptian mummies - Hypography Science Forums. See, Tobacco In Ancient Egyptian Tombs? [Archive]. And other populations used various herbal remedies.
In an older May 2011 study of mummies with artery disease, arterial calcification (as a marker of atherosclerosis) was evident at a variety of sites in Egypt in almost half the mummies scanned, prompting the investigators to note that the condition was common in this group of middle aged or older ancient Egyptians. The 20 mummies with definite atherosclerosis were older (mean 45.years) than those with intact vascular tissue but no atherosclerosis (34.5 years).
In the 2013 latest study, researchers took CT scans of 137 mummies from several locations including Egypt, Peru, southwest America and the Aleutian Islands in Alaska. Reporting in the journal Lancet, they found that over a third of the mummies had signs of likely or definite hardened arteries, and even in cases where the vessels themselves had disintegrated, the unmistakable remnants of calcified plaques that maintained the shape of these vessels remained. They found that age and time of death was positively correlated with the extent of the atherosclerosis; the older the mummy, the more likely that plaques were present. Check out the article, "Scientists Uncover the First Case of Hardened Arteries in a Mummy."
Previous studies had shown similar findings. But the mummies in those analyses had enjoyed relatively high socioeconomic status, and were therefore more likely to eat richer diets high in saturated fat and perhaps exercise less since most had servants doing the work for them. This month's study included a more diverse population of mummies, not only wealthy ancient Egyptians. In the latest study, the evidence of disease strongly indicates that lifestyle and diet may explain only part of the more complicated process of atherosclerosis. The rest may be inherited regardless of what is eaten.
Researchers found that the Arctic people's mummies came from the frozen Aleutian Islands and likely ate diets high in animal fats, including blubber from whales and seals. But the relatively vegetarian ancient peoples from Peru and the Americas probably ate a more plant-based diet that tends to lower risk of atherosclerosis. So why did they also suffer from calcified arteries? It seems to point to genes, or does it?
In a statement to media attending the meeting, study author Randall Thompson of Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute explained:
“We found that heart disease is a serial killer that has been stalking mankind for thousands of years. In the last century, atherosclerotic vascular disease has replaced infectious disease as the leading cause of death across the developed world. 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. 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.”
Modern people with hardened arteries want to know how to reverse it with foods. Eating a vegan diet very low in fat seems to show hardened artery plaque reversals in studies related to diets such as the Ornish Diets. See, "Reverse Your Heart Disease in 28 Days | The Dr. Oz Show" and "A Diet That Restricts Daily Fat Intake to 10% Can Help Fight Against Heart Disease."
If your genes are such that you can't prevent it by diet beforehand, studies show at least that you can reverse it as long as you're on that type of diet. In ancient times people ate lots of fat when they could find it. And if they didn't have the genes to remove the fat (or enough cholesterol receptors on their liver to get read of the fat before it became plaque), they ended up with calcified arteries.
In the new study, one question some consumers would like to ask was what was the dietary source of vitamin K-2 (MK-7) or natto in the mummies of the Arctic and Egypt, if any? And how low fat a diet did each culture have, assuming they had the genes for developing hardening of the arteries on their local dietary habits and ate what they could find to survive.
Scientists think, due to this new study that, a certain amount of plaque buildup may be an inevitable part of the human condition, and reflect the gradual drop in efficiency of the body’s ability to break down and process fats. If the body became less able to process fats after a certain amount of time, inquiring minds would like to know when that happened in time and how did the genes change, if they did?
Previous studies of mummies led researchers to argue that since ancient Egyptians ate a healthier diet and were generally more active than modern man, they might simply be predisposed to developing clogged arteries
Ancient Egyptians may have lived during the golden age of agriculture. But Arctic peoples with hardening of the arteries lived on fish and meat and had little access to vegetables other than what grew wild above the arctic circle's short summers. If the Paleo diet and the Mediterranean diet didn't help some of the ancients, what diet is helpful to those with the genes that predispose them to hardening of the arteries? Ancients didn't have access to statins unless it came from foods. And what of the peoples of China in prehistoric times? Did the mummies found in the Gobi also have calcified arteries in youth or middle age like some of the other mummies of Egypt, Peru, or the Arctic? If the high omega 3 seafood diet didn't help those Arctic peoples, what will help moderns who want to avoid taking prescription drugs to keep the calcium out of their arteries and in their bones? What vitamin helps and in what dose is the question?
What researchers didn't pin down to a science focused on making more clear the complexity of which genes and how predispose some people to develop plaques, but not others. Is it blood type? Or the fact that strokes run in families, but what about heart disease? What might be responsible for atherosclerosis? At this point more research is needed because presently the current understanding is incomplete. Dieters want the big picture.
What's going to happen now is that the mummies will be biopsied to learn more about chronic infection, genetics or how inflammation play a role in developing atherosclerosis because modern doctors keep advising their patients to lower the inflammation risk with dietary and other changes.
What's clear is that ancient peoples whether they were vegetarian or ate all animal protein diets didn't restrict their fat intake. Assuming a person has the genes and family history for hardened arteries to develop or have developed them, the Dr. Ornish reversal diet did reverse some of the plaque of some of the patients.
The diet is made up of 10% fat, most of which is polyunsaturated or monounsaturated, 70% to 75% carbohydrates, 15% to 20% protein, and contains only 5 mg of cholesterol daily. It's going to be difficult to find a middle aged or older mummy somewhere on Earth in ancient times who followed that diet in spite of genes for hardening of the arteries, even in the pre-Columbian areas living mostly on beans.
Somewhere in there, a daily diet containing more that 10 percent of fat may have been in the diet. And eventually, the arteries filled up, if the person had the genes and family history for it. But more research on mummies will continue, since the big picture is not in yet. Everyone knows genes play a role. For example, George Washington's drummer boy lived to the age of 103 eating the diet in common in those days that everyone else ate. See, "Even the Long-Lived Smoke, Drink and Don't Exercise | TIME.com." Check out the article, "104-year-old 'super ager' can thank her lucky genes - CNN.com."