Saturday, May 21, 2011

More Talking Mummies

Mummy Says Sat Fat OK
In “Mummy Says Princess Had Coronary Disease,” scientists who performed a CT scan on a 3,500-year-old Egyptian mummy express their puzzlement that this ancient princess had advanced atherosclerosis (hardened arteries) despite her civilization’s “healthy” diet that included wheat, barley, bread and beer—and only small amounts of meat.
Atherosclerosis is linked to high blood levels of triglycerides (a type of fat molecule) and low levels of HDL cholesterol, the “good” cholesterol. Eating a lot of carbohydrates (such as wheat, barley, bread and beer) is well known to raise triglycerides and lower HDL. Eating fat (such as found in meat) counteracts these effects, raising HDL and lowering triglyceride levels. The Egyptian princess’s diet, therefore, is the perfect recipe for high triglycerides and low HDL—and for atherosclerosis.
These facts about diet and blood lipid levels are not controversial—they have been known for decades and verified repeatedly by scores of studies. So why were the anthropologists surprised by the mummy’s atherosclerosis? And why is Horgan resistant to the idea that carbohydrates cause obesity and desease?

The "mummy as proof of causality" narrative isn't convincing to me, because it isn't provable what amount of meat, fat, or sugar these folks ate.  It's entirely possible that some degree or even a lot of atherosclerosis is normal, but it's the combination of athersclerosis plus a highly inflammatory diet that is the cause of accelerated rates of death/CVD/stroke/cancern in western cultures.  On the other hand, if mummies from Egypt had great ooking arteries, when it is well known that the Egyptians ate large quantities of wheat, THAT would be significant but not a stake in the heart of the carbohydrate hypothesis.

I agree with the author on one point - there's just no doubt that high triglycerides in combination with low HDL provides the means to predict greater liklihood of disease, and carbohydrate consumption does in fact elevate triglycerides, while low saturated fat consumption lowers HDL levels.  It is also a fact that high carbohydrate consumption, and in particular high fructose consumption via sugar/HFCS, drives non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (among other potential causes).  It is also easy to correct metabolic syndrome through carb restriction.  In short, we don't need mummies to know that excessive carb consumption has a negative effect on your health.

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