In our modern world of fast food, greasy fried foods galore and general obesity as the rule, we are being warned constantly by the medical field of the dangers these things bring to our health. Hardening of the arteries, or atherosclerosis, is believed widely to be a prime result of such wanton disregard for a healthy low-fat, low LDL cholesterol diet. When the arteries, whose job is to carry oxygenated blood from the heart to all parts of the body, become narrowed and constricted by plaque, blood pressure rises. Additionally, when even the smallest fragment of this plaque breaks free from an artery wall, it can cause clotting. End of the line? A heart attack or stroke, which may either kill the patient or at the very least cause great suffering and physical disability.
Hence the alarm when a person is found to have arteries that are no longer supple and clean inside. Often, however, despite stringent diet control, a healthy lifestyle of exercise, and even pharmaceutical intervention, hardening happens. It can be the result of hereditary factors beyond anyone’s control (given that none of us can choose our parents or ancestors; if such were the case, we’d all be healthy as athletes and look like movie stars and supermodels).
Imagine, then, the shock on faces of experts from St. Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute in Kansas City, when they discovered that numerous mummies being examined had atherosclerosis. Out of 137 bodies ranging in age from the early thirties to mid forties, from Egypt, Peru and the Aleutian Islands off Alaska, about a third were discovered to have their arteries plugged significantly. The deceased subjects had lived in their respective lands during a period from about 3800 B.C. to 1900 A.D. Certainly there were no hamburger joints in their neighborhoods at those times, nor would they have popped a load of fries into a deep fryer to go along with some fried mastodon or other animal every night. How, then, can the researchers involved in this study explain such findings?
Again, heredity is a catch-all for the unexplainable results in the mummies, on whom CAT scans and other far-post-mortem examinations were performed. There sure must have been a great deal of head-scratching when the subsequent paper (published in Britain’s Lancet) was released recently at the American College of Cardiology in San Francisco. It may seem embarrassing, one might think, to the diet-conscious scientific world, to realize by hard evidence before them, that merely eating low-fat foods and getting plenty of exercise (as in the case of primitive people with none of the conveniences we now possess) are not always going to make a lot of difference in cardiovascular health.
Among some of the possible answers to the question of “how could this have happened?” are that the mummified persons studied had inhaled a great deal of smoke from fires used for cooking and heating. As with tobacco smoking, this, too, could have affected their arteries. As well, it may be guessed that diets high in animal protein were a contributing factor. Yet the current emphasis on elimination of fried foods from modern diets, an obsession with some people (including a certain politician in New York City) may not be the panacea for health that it is considered to be.
More study should be done on currently-living people’s arteries to be of valid use in helping us all maintain good health. It is no stretch of the imagination to realize that ancient people had bodies that were not the same as those of modern humans. Nor were the foods they consumed the same, what with the lack of chemicals and genetic engineering. As the researchers were unable to conclude from their examinations whether clogging of arteries were responsible at all for the mummies’ deaths, such factors as the other ingredients in our foods today ought to be also checked. It could very well be that these additives also have a role in the condition of blood vessels.
For more information on the studies done on the mummies, see this Lancet link: