Egyptians ate fish, birds, barley, dates, olives, beans,
onions, cucumbers and food from domesticated cattle, sheep and
of old caught fish, hunted birds, deer and guinea pigs, farmed
corn, potatoes and beans and raised alpaca for food and
Native American Puebloans foraged on fish, rabbit, corn,
squash, nuts, acorns, deer and big horn sheep.
Aleutian Islanders subsisted on fish, birds, wild berries,
seals, sea otters and whales.
these preindustrial cultures have in common? Their average age
of death was around 43 years. And many of them had heart
learned these facts at a presentation on a recent evening by
Dr. Gregory S. Thomas, Medical Director of the Heart and
Vascular Institute at Long Beach Memorial Hospital in
California. His team of researchers used modern CT (computed
tomographic) scanners to look for signs of heart disease in
137 mummies ó preserved bodies of people who lived 3000
with learning this fascinating information, we were treated to
a mummy-themed menu prepared by Dale Evans of Community
Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula: Icelandic cod, ancient
grain and vegetable salad, and chocolate eclairs that did
indeed look like ancient mummy caskets.
Thomas described how ó with the same detection tools used
today ó his research team found calcified plaque in the
walls of arteries in a good proportion of these long preserved
specimens. "People have had atherosclerosis (calcium
deposits in arteries) for a long, long time," he
does that say about diet recommendations to reduce our risks
for this condition?
donít know what to eat anymore," Thomas halfway joked.
"We havenít found any ancient people who were
vegetarians. They ate what they could find. We want to believe
that we can go back to natureÖ."
Thomas concurs with current knowledge that up to 50 percent of
heart disease risk comes from our parents ó what we
inherited in our genetic material. "Clearly, there are
genes that promote atherosclerosis and those that donít."
other half of our susceptibility comes from controllable risk
factors such as smoking, lack of physical activity and poor
may play a role as well, Thomas explained as he showed a head
scan of an ancient Egyptian scribe with really bad tooth
decay. "These people had a lot of infections.
are too smug if we think we have figured out all the causes
(of heart disease), however," he added. He suspects there
are other unknowns out there that increase our risk for this
heart disease just a normal part of aging? The appearance of
heart disease across cultures of diverse diets and lifestyles
certainly seems to indicate that, states Dr. Randall C.
Thompson, lead author of the published study on this research.
But he underscores the need for each of us to manage the risk
factors over which we can control, namely our lifestyle
throw our diet manuals out the window? Probably not, say these
heart experts. "Regardless of the cause," Thomas
concluded, "humans are all fundamentally at risk (for
heart disease). So it behooves us to take care of ourselves
and do whatever we can to decrease the risk."
like age-old advice