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Mummies don't get cancer?

by (11478)
Updated September 16, 2014 at 7:15 PM
Created October 15, 2010 at 12:34 PM

British scientists have found that cancer is nearly non-existant in Egyptian mummies ( http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1320507/Cancer-purely-man-say-scientists-finding-trace-disease-Egyptian-mummies.html ). They conclude that cancer is a man-made, industrial age phenomenon, likely caused by pollution and poor diet. However, they did find evidence of hardening of the arteries and brittle bones in the mummies. Have these scientists mis- or over-interpreted their findings? What are the selection biases in mummification? Since ancient Egypt was an agricultural society, is it true that vascular diseases and osteoporosis are by-products of agriculture, while cancer is a truly modern condition? What is the paleo perspective on these findings?

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2153 · April 29, 2011 at 7:27 PM

mummies were usually people important enough to be mummified. So those people were probably powerful and wealthy. I would think they would have had a similar diet and this health problems as the aristocracy in Europe during the middle ages and renaissance.

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2153 · April 29, 2011 at 7:25 PM

how do yo know how much omega 6 is in the food you eat? Its not like it's on the label right?

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11478 · October 16, 2010 at 2:14 AM

@Jay, the linked article says that they examined tissue samples from "hundreds" of Egyptian mummies, but I wonder about selection bias (see ben61820's answer).

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20787 · October 15, 2010 at 11:22 PM

Looks like the poor ate a lot of grain, which we would expect to cause some problems.

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15583 · October 15, 2010 at 8:35 PM

I might be misreading, but I'm not sure the first study finds that the diet change prevents 90% of cancer, it looks like the reduction in risk is 60%... and even this wouldn't mean that 60% of cancer are prevented, surely it means that if the risk was 1 in 100 it would reduce to 0.6 in 100? [Feel free to correct my skim of the text and quick interpretation of the stats, since it's late and I may be speaking nonsense] I agree with all your substantive health suggestions naturally.

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4359 · October 15, 2010 at 7:17 PM

About 50% of dead people today died of cancer, right? I know zero about mummies but would guess they at least several hundred mummies to study. So, if they can only find cancer in a few and would expect to find it in half, that's pretty darn significant. Right?

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4359 · October 15, 2010 at 7:28 PM

Limiting omega 6s to about 4% of calories may prevent 90% of cancers. See this randomized trial (Lyon diet) which basically found 90% reductions in cancer (after the first 2 years) among those eating a 4% PUFA diet as compared to controls on the AMA Heart diet: http://archinte.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/full/158/11/1181

Likewise vit D may prevent 75% of cancers. Google Lappe and vitamin D and cancer to see the randomized trial.

Vit K may also prevent 75% of cancers. http://www.plosmedicine.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pmed.0050196

So, if ancient neolithic people didn't eat vegetable oils (which they didn't) and got more sun (which they did) and ate foods richer in vit K (which they probably did), you might expect them to have vanishingly low rates of cancer (which it turns out maybe they did).

Heart disease is caused by (i) too much PUFAs, (ii) loo much fructose, and/or (iii) too little copper and other minerals. Ancient neolithic eaters may have run into some trouble on (ii) and (iii), so they still got some cardiovascular disease (but not as much as we do).

Mostly, however, they died in childhood or from poor sanitation or from germs. Luckily, (i) we can mostly avoid these infectious and/or childhood deaths, (ii) we definitely can limit PUFAs, (iii) we easily can get adequate vit D, vit K, and minerals (like copper), and (iv) can definitely avoid excess fructose. So, basically, you can avoid the major causes of death, provided you start while you're still healthy.

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2153 · April 29, 2011 at 7:25 PM

how do yo know how much omega 6 is in the food you eat? Its not like it's on the label right?

62ed65f3596aa2f62fa1d58a0c09f8c3
20787 · October 15, 2010 at 11:22 PM

Looks like the poor ate a lot of grain, which we would expect to cause some problems.

E35e3d76547b18096a59c90029e7e107
15583 · October 15, 2010 at 8:35 PM

I might be misreading, but I'm not sure the first study finds that the diet change prevents 90% of cancer, it looks like the reduction in risk is 60%... and even this wouldn't mean that 60% of cancer are prevented, surely it means that if the risk was 1 in 100 it would reduce to 0.6 in 100? [Feel free to correct my skim of the text and quick interpretation of the stats, since it's late and I may be speaking nonsense] I agree with all your substantive health suggestions naturally.

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20787 · October 15, 2010 at 3:18 PM

Well, looking at their diet as follows: "The ancient Egyptian's diet consisted of a vast amount of grains, fish, vegetables, and fruits. They enjoyed beef and other red meats very much, but the common people could not afford them. The arid land made it very hard to raise grazing animals such as cows, therefore, beef was very expensive and only eaten at special banquets. The primary food of their diet was grain, because it could be used for many different purposes." THey also ate fish although the upper class seemed to eat more red meat. And they also ate honey and sugar and beer.

So they certainly were not paleo eaters. Still, it was probably a lot healthier than the current SAD. Processing was probably minimal and they had less chemicals and no hydrogenated oils, no grain oils, no GMO, no high fructose corn syrup and no fake foods in general. Plus the upper classes liked meat!

I don't know much about their grain preparation procedures but research suggests they did allow at least some of their wheat to sprout before being processed into bread: http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Ancient+bread+rises+in+gourmet+status-a018545034 This old school wheat, sprouted, and possibly allowed to slow rise into bread (unlike current fast rise unsprouted bread) would have cut down a fair amount on the toxins in the wheat. So you would expect a healthier product if prepared this way.

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18671 · October 15, 2010 at 4:28 PM

In Protein Power, the Eades' devote part of a chapter to the ancient Egyptians, who were

afflicted with with rotten teeth and severe atherosclerosis, suffering from elevated blood pressure and dying in their thirties with heart attacks.

but they say nothing about cancer.

Because of the increasing evidence that cancer feeds on sugar, and that a ketogenic diet can stop the growth of tumours, I would have to guess that cancer flourishes under a poor diet, but perhaps requires more than that.

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15966 · October 15, 2010 at 1:28 PM

Not up to date on the cancer-related findings but i remember reading in two places that several Egyptian mummies have shown evidence for bad teeth and something akin to diabetes. Of course, mummified remains are prolly from a small segment of their population (elite, rich, affluent, blahblah).

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2153 · April 29, 2011 at 7:27 PM

mummies were usually people important enough to be mummified. So those people were probably powerful and wealthy. I would think they would have had a similar diet and this health problems as the aristocracy in Europe during the middle ages and renaissance.

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2369 · October 15, 2010 at 1:08 PM

I doubt if the sample size of mummies is high enough to make any conclusions on anything.

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11478 · October 16, 2010 at 2:14 AM

@Jay, the linked article says that they examined tissue samples from "hundreds" of Egyptian mummies, but I wonder about selection bias (see ben61820's answer).

4781cf8ae1bfcb558dfb056af17bea94
4359 · October 15, 2010 at 7:17 PM

About 50% of dead people today died of cancer, right? I know zero about mummies but would guess they at least several hundred mummies to study. So, if they can only find cancer in a few and would expect to find it in half, that's pretty darn significant. Right?

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