Fat does not cause heart disease

What Ancient Mummies Teach Us About Heart Disease and Fat


Ever wonder how the ancient mummies died in the first place?

I have, many times. When I was young I remember thinking the that mummies must have died of old age, because they looked so very … old.

The word “mummy” is derived from the Persian word “mumia,” referring to pitch, a black, 
asphalt-like substance that oozed from the “Mummy Mountain” in Persia and was used in the 
embalming processThus, the remains of the often-blackened bodies are called mummies.

Recently, the Horus Study analyzed the remains of mummies and the results revealed that almost half of them would have died from clogged arteries. On prominent mummified princesses called Ahmose Meryet Amon (her name means “Child of the Moon, Beloved Amun”)  who lived around 1550 B.C died from a heart attack.

Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic papyri texts describe her symptoms to be angina, acute myocardial infarction, and congestive heart failure. Apparently she got a pain in her arm and died clutching her chest. Sounds rather like a heart attack to me.

Even relief sculptures in ancient Egyptian tombs have been interpreted as showing sudden death with one depicting a nobleman collapsing in front of his servants. Pictures show that heart disease was apparent in the ancient world too.

The co- leader of the Horus study that looked as those Egyptian mummies in Cairo is reported to have said that should “Child of the Moon” have been alive today, he would have advised her to lay off the fat and take more exercise. Rather presumptuous to assume that her clogged arteries were a product of too much fat in her diet, but thats what most people believe to be true. Fat causes heart disease.

Egypt and Honey

Egypt and Honey

In reality if  Princess Moon’s diet is to blame at all, from what is known about the preferred foods of Egyptian Princesses,  it would point to luxurious and decadent breads laden with golden honey and therefore carbohydrates as the cause of her weight, rather than fat. The main food at every meal was bread, as in fact it was throughout Egypt, the Near East and Europe until the potato was introduced after the discovery of the Americas in the 15th century CE. The Ancient Egyptians, both rich and poor, ate so much bread that the people who lived in the lands around Egypt called them “bread eaters”.

Bread and beer were the two staples of the Egyptian diet. Everyone from the highest priest to the lowliest laborer would eat these two foods every day, although the quality of the foods for the priest would undoubtedly be higher. The study of her body also suggested she had atherosclerosis brought on by chronic inflammation and arthritis, so maybe her heart condition was nothing to do with her diet after all.

Another recent study into the bodies of 137 mummies from four geographic regions or populations spanning more than 4,000 years: ancient Egypt, ancient Peru, the Ancestral Puebloans of southwest America, and the Unangan of the Aleutian Islands in current-day Alaska They revealed heart and vascular calcifications consistent with atherosclerosis. The researchers at The Mid America Heart Institute were surprised to discover atherosclerosis among hunter gatherer populations as their active lifestyle and varied diet would have presumed them to be a low risk.

“The presence of atherosclerosis in premodern human beings suggests that the disease is an inherent component of human aging and not associated with any specific diet or lifestyle,”

Interestingly, all four populations lived at a time when infections were common and a major cause of death. Thus chronic infection and inflammation may have promoted the inflammatory aspects of atherosclerosis.

Making Breads

Making Breads

“Commonly, we think of atherosclerosis as a consequence of modern lifestyles, mainly because it has increased in developing countries as they become more westernized. The data from the HORUS study of four ancient populations suggests a missing link in our understanding of heart disease, and we may not be so different from these ancient civilizations.”

-ACC President-Elect John Gordon Harold, MD, MACC. Bruetsch  W.L.; The earliest record of sudden death possibly due to atherosclerotic coronary occlusion. Circulation. 20 1959:438-441

Fat is not to blame for heart disease.

That is not to say that one should go out and eat only fat, like anything: a life in health is a life in balance.

References:

Cardio Source

Wreszinsk W. [Der frosse medizinische Papyrus des Berliner Museums.] Microfilm. Washington, DC: Library of Congress Preservation Microfilming Program, available from Library of Congress Photoduplication Service, 1995

The Horus Study. Allam et al April 2011 

Eat like an Egyptian

Reuters- Mummies shared key heart risk

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About Tabitha Farrar

I work as Head of Marketing for a software startup in Boulder. As a recovered Anorexia sufferer, I advocate for proper understanding of eating disorders in my spare time. On that note, I wrote a book about my own journey into eating again called Love Fat.

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