A Brief Overview of Atherosclerosis
Atherosclerosis is a process of chronic inflammation of the cells lining the arterial walls. Overtime, scar-like tissue builds up with some deposition of calcium and small dense cholesterol molecules in the tissue. Ultimately, the inflamed atherosclerotic lesion can rupture, a blood clot suddenly forms and an individual will experience a heart attack.
Over the last 30-40 years researchers have tried to demonstrate that dietary fat is the cause of atherosclerosis and the resulting heart attack. Unfortunately to date, there are no studies that demonstrate that the cholesterol we eat results in heart attacks or that eating less cholesterol results in fewer heart attacks (see this previous post).
As I have pointed out in previous posts, there is growing scientific support that the inflammation that drives the underlying development of atherosclerosis is driven by a disease process called insulin resistance. Furthermore, the primary factor that triggers insulin resistance is the excessive amount of carbohydrates in our diet.
Mummies and Heart Disease
Some researchers performed CT scans of the hearts of 44 Egyptian mummies and detected the remnants of calcium from atherosclerosis in nearly half of them. Image that, people from ancient times developed heart disease.
As reported in the LA Times, the researchers were surprised by their finding considering that Egyptians didn’t smoke and were known to eat diets that primarily consisted of fruit, vegetables and grains with small amounts of lean meat. They were living by the heart-healthy rules put forward by the USDA (see food pyramid) but still developed heart disease. Why did they get heart disease?
I’m not too surprised by they developed heart disease because these people were eating a diet very high in carbohydrates with grains being a major portion of the diet. As I stated above, carbohydrates are the primary driving force behind the development of insulin resistance. Additionally, many people suspect that carbohydrates derived from grain sources may be the most damaging to our metabolism.
What I did find most surprising was that after showing that even an ancient lifestyle that avoided tobacco with a diet low in fat, and high in “healthy” fruit, vegetables and grains, one of the researchers said, “It becomes even more important to take measures to forestall development of the [heart] disease as long as possible, including stopping smoking, eating less red meat and losing weight.”
Huh? Didn’t he just say, “…stopping smoking, eating less red meat and losing weight.” Ahem, but excuse me, that didn’t seem to work if 50% of all the mummies who lived this way still developed atherosclerosis.
The wealthiest of all ancient Egyptians (these are the fortunate few who were mummified) did exactly that and 50% of them still developed atherosclerosis. Gee what else could be the cause? How about mentioning at least something about their high carbohydrate diet? Not a peep.
Too many researchers have developed such a myopic belief that fat causes heart disease that even when presented with evidence to the contrary, they can’t even openly consider that maybe it’s not true and that carbohydrates may be the real culprit.
Once again, when it comes to health and medicine, be careful what you read.