The Surprising Thing Ancient Mummies Tell Us About What To Eat

Written by on November 30, 2017 in Mysteries, Reality's Edge with 6 Comments
A reconstruction of a 5,000-year-old man based on his mummified remains that were found in the Italian Alps. Signs of heart disease in mummies have led some scientists to reconsider the idea that heart disease is a purely modern phenomena.

A reconstruction of a 5,000-year-old man based on his mummified remains that were found in the Italian Alps. Signs of heart disease in mummies have led some scientists to reconsider the idea that heart disease is a purely modern phenomena.

By Peter Whoriskey | NDTV

On a foggy day in August 1936, an anthropologist and his crew set sail for Kagamil Island, a small volcanic speck of hot springs and cliffs in the Bering Sea. A person identified as “Brown Bear” had told them of a cave full of mummies and other human remains. Shortly after landing, they found the opening in the rocks near a steam jet.

Related Article: Why Are These 32 Symbols Found In Ancient Caves All Over Europe? (TED Video)

According to the notes of the anthropologist, Ales Hrdlicka, the cave contained “wonderful riches”:

“Space within cave is limited, in most of it one can not stand up, in none of it can use shovels; must work with hands like badgers. . . . As the salt deposit is penetrated into, there appears mummy after mummy, in different states of preservation – male, female and especially children . . . a huge whale shoulder blade . . . two entire kayaks.”

Nearly 80 years later, the mummies from Kagamil and elsewhere have excited the interest of scientists who say what they have learned from the remains challenges a central tenet of conventional thinking about what we ought to eat.

Heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States, is often blamed on modern diets and a sedentary lifestyle. According to this thinking, if only people ate the “right” foods and exercised more, they could live longer. This view is encapsulated in the current version of the government's Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which are under review and will be reissued soon. The guidelines have long recommended dietary habits deemed good for your heart: lower intakes of saturated fat and salt, more emphasis on lean meat and seafood.

“Poor diet and physical inactivity are associated with major causes of morbidity and mortality in the United States,” according to the guidelines.

Related Article: New Scientific Analysis Confirms Saturated Fats Have No Link to Heart Disease

But examinations of the bodies of the Unangans from Kagamil, in the Aleutian Islands, and other pre-modern people indicate that, in fact, the scourge of heart disease is not at all new, and that people who exercised more than we do as a matter of necessity and whose diet was free from modern temptations also suffered striking levels of heart disease, according to the researchers.

In recent years, X-ray-based scans of mummies from around the world – including the hunter-gatherers of Kagamil and ones from ancient Egypt, Peru, Europe and the American Southwest – have found signs of heart disease, or atherosclerosis, the plaque lining the arteries near the heart.

For years, scientists have argued over the extent to which modern diets ought to be blamed for high rates of heart disease. An American Heart Association publication summarizes: “There can be little doubt that the Western diet is closely tied to the development of atherosclerosis.”

This belief is widely shared, but it has led to a fierce debate over how exactly people ought to reform their diets. Many leading health groups, including the American Heart Association, have concluded that a person's risk of heart disease depends on “both the quantity and quality of fat in an individual's diet,” and they urge people to reduce the amount of animal products – especially beef, pork and lamb – that they consume.

That approach has met strong opposition in recent years from critics who argue instead that a diet rich in protein and lower in carbohydrates – the so-called “cave man” approach – makes it easier to maintain a stable weight and metabolism.

The new research may undercut both positions. By turning up evidence of heart disease in populations with widely varying diets, the mummy research suggests that some unrecognized cause besides what we choose to eat is at work.

“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,” according to the researchers, who include specialists in cardiology, X-rays, anthropology and other fields.

Related Article: Archaeological Team Discovers Mythical ‘Tomb of Osiris’, God of the Dead, In Egypt

The research has found its way over the years into some of the world's most esteemed medical journals, including the Lancet, which in 2013 published an article about four groups of mummies. Critics have charged that the number of mummies that have been examined is relatively small – only a couple of hundred – and insufficient to support broad conclusions. Moreover, the bodies have been dead a long time, and maybe some other chemical changes created the appearance of arterial plaque.


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6 Reader Comments

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  1.' Ethan Indigo Smith says:

    warrior diet….this is awesome…

  2.' Trond Ruud says:

    Enkelte kolesterolskeptiske forskere hevder at blodpropp i hjertet egentlig oppstår gjennom at verkebyller i åreveggene sprekker og verkepusset forårsaker spontan proppdannelse, som blokkerer åren og blodomløpet. Det er altså ikke kolesterol, som gir hjerteinfarkt og hjerneslag.

  3.' Stephannie Snyder says:

    Nothing is new….it is all recycled

  4.' Gamacookie Bacchilega says:

    Remarkable article <3

  5.' Phoenix Blue says:

    you are what you eat

  6.' David Copping says:

    As a serious point here. We need to distinguish pre modern diets to around at least 8000 years ago. This is when agriculture took hold over hunter gathering. Secondly we have sample size – very small in this citation. When we talk sample sizes from large research studies that have provided us with dietary links to heart disease we are talking in the many tens of thousands. Whilst I don’t doubt the veracity of the research on face value the statistical certainty from perhaps a few hundred ancient people would be likely to barely reach 1 sigma level of confidence. Whereas the large scale research I noted above has confidence levels up around 4. That’s a huge difference

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