What Mummies Can Teach You About Healthy Arteries
3,500-year-old Egyptian mummies are making modern medical news.
Over the last two years, CT scans of several mummies have revealed a surprising secret. A secret that’s made many doctors question what they know about heart-health.
These mummies show signs of hardening of the arteries. In fact, 7 of the 8 mummies who lived past the age of 45 had signs of hardening.
And just this past week, the researchers announced a milestone. The Princess Ahmose-Meryet-Amon – who died some 3,500 years ago – became the oldest known case of hardening of the arteries.
That’s not what researchers expected.
Instead, they thought the mummies would have had healthy, flexible arteries. Because these people didn’t eat a modern diet. And the ancient Egyptians lived more active lives than we do today.
The researchers called their findings “striking.” They say their results call into question the idea that hardening of the arteries is a modern disease.
But I’m not so sure. Here’s why…
Your arteries become stiff and inflexible largely because of a build-up of LDL cholesterol. This build-up is a major reason high cholesterol is such a problem.
Diets high in saturated animal fats are known to raise cholesterol levels. But these Egyptians probably ate lots of fruits and vegetables and fairly lean meat. So how did their arteries get so stiff?
The answer probably lies in something else they ate.
By the time Princess Ahmose-Meryet-Amon was born, most Egyptians ate a diet high in grains. The researchers who studied her remains note that wheat, barley, bread and beer were staples of the Egyptian diet at the time.
In other words, these Egyptians had already started down the road to our modern, high-glycemic diet.
High-glycemic foods – such as grains – cause a sharp rise in blood sugar. Diets high in these foods also lead to higher levels of unhealthy fats in the blood. Fats such as triglycerides and cholesterol.(1) And a higher level of cholesterol contributes to hardening of the arteries.
Studies show that replacing saturated fats with carbohydrates increases unhealthy triglycerides.(2) And it doesn’t lower the important LDL (“bad”) to HDL (“good”) cholesterol ratio.(3)
In other words, adding high-glycemic grains to your diet makes your chances of hardening of the arteries worse. And that’s exactly what the ancient Egyptians did.
Plus, ordinary citizens weren’t mummified and placed in elaborate tombs. Only the wealthy elite could afford that. So these mummies were people of wealth and privilege. Chances are they ate richer foods – and were less active – than the average Egyptian.
In other words, these mummies were the most likely people in ancient Egypt to suffer from hardening of the arteries. So it should be no surprise they did.
This research doesn’t really call into question what we know. Instead, it proves it. Diets high in saturated fats and carbohydrates promote higher cholesterol levels. Which is exactly what can lead to hardening of the arteries.
On the other hand, many studies show that a diet low in complex carbohydrates and high in lean protein, promotes healthier levels of fats in your blood.(4) And healthier fat levels discourage hardening of the arteries.
The heart-healthiest eating plan is one that avoids exactly the foods the ancient Egyptians had added to their diets.
If you avoid eating starches and sugars – and get plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables and lean protein – you should significantly lower your risk of ending up like these mummies.(5)