Tuesday, April 2, 2013

(Searcher) Ancestral Heart Disease

Just a few weeks ago, Eryn Brown of the Los Angeles Times reported in this article that researchers conducted CT scans of mummies which ended up showing them predisposed to cardiovascular problems. This article somewhat challenges the week’s readings, particularly the causes of heart disease and the general presence of heart disease in our ancestors. In Chapter 21, Weil claims that atherosclerosis and congestive heart failure are primarily a result of agriculture and industry, our letting go of “ancestral lifestyles”, and our unhealthy modern environments. She states, “Epidemic heart disease was certainly not commonplace in…our past as a species. The reason our ancestors did not develop CHF is that the modern risk factors for heart diseases were all but absent in our ancestral environment.”

While it is true that our modern lifestyles have not exactly taken a turn for the healthier, researcher Caleb Finch notes, “There may be no environment or lifestyle which could eliminate atherosclerosis.” The mummies studied were “Egyptians who lived between 3100 BC and AD 364; pueblo dwellers who lived in what is now Utah between 1500 BC and AD 1500; Peruvians who lived between 900 BC and AD 1500 before Europeans arrived in South America; and Aleutian hunter-gatherers who were alive in the pre-industrial period around AD 1900” – non-Western inhabitants who were unlikely to have high-fat diets. Due to the findings of “calcium deposits of atherosclerosis in mummies from all four cultures” in the same places of the body, the researchers claim that age is the main factor that increases cardiovascular disease in both our ancestors and our modern selves. However, this study did not discover anything about the ultimate CHF in our ancestors (consistent with the reading), nor did it claim that heart disease was as much of an epidemic as it is today. 

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