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Heart disease in ancient Egypt, does it support Paleo view?

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created May 17, 2011 at 10:27 PM

Recent studies have found atherosclerosis prevalent in many ancient Egyptian mummies, dating from several thousand years ago: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/05/110517121824.htm

Different possible reasons for heart diseases are quoted in the study, starting with genetic tendencies and also including parasites. Nevertheless, the health problems coming from the consumption of wheat and barley are not given much thought. Since this is the first documented case of heart disease in history I believe it important to share it with you paleohackers, and also ask for your views on the connection between diet and heart disease in old civilisations. While ancient Egypt was an agricultural society, it is also true that a princess surely had access to abundant meat sources, and that in those days all meat was, obviously organic, likely from pasture raised cattle. In summary what I am asking is whether this evidence of very old heart disease in ancient, agricultural societies would be supportive of our paleo view, or not!

Ac1e55cf06c2180f4008ff01953d10dd

(3524)

on May 18, 2011
at 05:20 AM

It is true that fish was forbidden for the upper classes based on religious observance. I understand, though, that both rich and poor Egyptians used to have bread, and also that wealthy individuals enjoyed red meat, that the poor could not afford. And the mummies belong to nobles or other rich people only.

6426d61a13689f8f651164b10f121d64

(11478)

on May 18, 2011
at 03:37 AM

Here's a previous "mummy" thread: http://paleohacks.com/questions/12288/mummies-dont-get-cancer#axzz1Mf9ijaIl

13db020c06c22c2f8b129034ddc013e4

(340)

on May 18, 2011
at 03:13 AM

There goes that hypothesis :)

Ac1e55cf06c2180f4008ff01953d10dd

(3524)

on May 18, 2011
at 03:00 AM

in the Egyptians mummies, the mummies that belonged to older people (in their 40s) had more advanced atherosclerosis than the ones from younger people.

13db020c06c22c2f8b129034ddc013e4

(340)

on May 18, 2011
at 02:02 AM

Interesting. Do you know whether the atherosclerosis built up with age? If the young had it as well, perhaps there's some benefit to small amounts of plaque? Seems absurd, but still.

60199d3a580a4e17969059609e48e678

(883)

on May 17, 2011
at 11:25 PM

awesome link! However I have little to add about the connection between diet and heart disease in ancient civilizations. I think the paleo lifestyle has pretty much summed up my thoughts. Grains seem to have a defining effect on it.

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8 Answers

2
3c6b4eed18dc57f746755b698426e7c8

on May 18, 2011
at 01:35 AM

Actually, according to Cordain, the Inuits and Eskimos also had atherosclerosis. Cordain, as you know, is still worried about saturated fat.

Some people think that atherosclerosis in itself is not harmful. It takes some "catalyst" to go from atherosclerosis to an actual heart attack or stroke. That catalyst, most people now believe, is "inflammation."

If you have bodily inflammation, you're more likely to suffer from such an attack. In other words, whatever may have caused atherosclerosis (saturated fat, sugar) isn't as important as the condition (inflammation) which will trigger an actual attack. That, at least, is my understanding.

13db020c06c22c2f8b129034ddc013e4

(340)

on May 18, 2011
at 03:13 AM

There goes that hypothesis :)

Ac1e55cf06c2180f4008ff01953d10dd

(3524)

on May 18, 2011
at 03:00 AM

in the Egyptians mummies, the mummies that belonged to older people (in their 40s) had more advanced atherosclerosis than the ones from younger people.

13db020c06c22c2f8b129034ddc013e4

(340)

on May 18, 2011
at 02:02 AM

Interesting. Do you know whether the atherosclerosis built up with age? If the young had it as well, perhaps there's some benefit to small amounts of plaque? Seems absurd, but still.

1
Cbda678b2a6bf0537d8c4ea0ce8aa9ad

(4319)

on May 18, 2011
at 05:22 AM

Wheat was extremely important in ancient Egypt, in fact it was used as currency in many dealings.

http://www.theperfectcurrency.org/history-of-money2.htm

1
Ffc7e0ecad8e8831b528c5d4921377cc

(942)

on May 18, 2011
at 03:07 AM

I forget where I read that ancient Egyptian nobles ate lots of honey.

1
5b69a02dadcae753771921d913909215

(1457)

on May 18, 2011
at 01:27 AM

Paleo people were healthy, started agiculture and then got heart disease.

Yep, supports paleo.

0
51047b6885c2155ea2ed9f40670a806e

on December 10, 2012
at 03:01 PM

Maybe we are doing it all wrong. Maybe we do have adapted to a less meat centric diet. It seems we are very susceptible to atherosclerosis. Im scared enough. With all the evidence form the Inuit, Masai and Egyptian elite having atherosclerosis I am getting off the wagon. Loren cordain IS still concerned about saturated fats coupled with inflammation. Ill just eat like the Kitavans mixed with the traditional diet of my country before Fried food, corn flakes, pastries and pizza became the new national diet: boiled Tubers, tropical fruit, fish, tuber/meat stew, rice, beans, vegetables and herbs & lowish fat. Im plenty scared now XD My grandparents look great, havent had a heart attack, eat close to what our traditional diet was . They are strong, need no help getting around, still work the field, no heart attacks. Im following my gut. Goodbye meat based diet, too scared to stick to you with a crappy digestive system and inflamation and other issues.

0
49d42db29623c49ccc8844aeb6e5ab61

on May 18, 2011
at 01:29 PM

According to Wikipedia, the ancient Egyptians lived about 3,500 BC. So that is well within the past 10,000 years where people have eaten a diet full of grains. They lived right in that time period. This was their diet (wikipedia): "The staple diet consisted of bread and beer, supplemented with vegetables such as onions and garlic, and fruit such as dates and figs. Wine and meat were enjoyed by all on feast days while the upper classes indulged on a more regular basis. Fish, meat, and fowl could be salted or dried, and could be cooked in stews or roasted on a grill." So bread was big back then. They didn't live in the times before grains were harvested.

0
06d21b99c58283ce575e36c4ecd4a458

(9948)

on May 18, 2011
at 04:51 AM

I have read soomewhere...I cannot for the life of me find it...that the royalty in ancient Egypt revered the wheat plant and products produced from wheat. And the peasants and commoners and slaves were relegated to eating mostly fish from the nile. Eating fish was not what the nobility ate. This from examining the mummies of the kings and queens and from examing the bones of the non royalty. Lifespan was longer among the peasants and they were taller in stature. Also, the royalty had lots of osteoporosis and dental disease whereas the commoners did not.

Back then wheat was the scourge of the nobility...maybe the first vegans that ate "healthywholegrains"

Ac1e55cf06c2180f4008ff01953d10dd

(3524)

on May 18, 2011
at 05:20 AM

It is true that fish was forbidden for the upper classes based on religious observance. I understand, though, that both rich and poor Egyptians used to have bread, and also that wealthy individuals enjoyed red meat, that the poor could not afford. And the mummies belong to nobles or other rich people only.

0
13db020c06c22c2f8b129034ddc013e4

on May 18, 2011
at 12:52 AM

I had read that mummies from a given period were atherosclerosis-free. My understanding is there are enough mummies that maybe they could identify by century when the problems started, then cross-reference with diet changes. Maybe there's a PhD candidate trolling on PaleoHacks who needs a topic?

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