Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Stress, the Iceman and Us

By Tim Olds

The release of stress hormones may have helped our ancient ancestors to survive dangerous situations, but modern stresses are killing us slowly. How do you rate on a common stress scale?

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He ate a Palaeo (strictly speaking a Neo) diet, and even at the age of 45 spent his days trekking across the Italian Alps. He was very lean – he had a Body Mass Index of 18.5, right at the bottom of the healthy range. A typical meal was venison, unleavened herb bread and fruit.

But for all these healthy lifestyle habits, Ötzi the Iceman, the 5300-year-old Austrian (or is it Italian?) glacier mummy, was a cardiovascular minefield with calcification in several major arteries.

Ötzi is not alone. Around the world there are enough atherosclerotic mummies to fill a museum. A study of 137 young adult mummies dating back 3500 years from Egypt, Peru, the US and the Arctic found evidence of arterial hardening in 34% of them (, about the same prevalence that we see today. And this despite their Peruvian diets of beans and yams, or their Aleutian hunter-gatherer lifestyles devoid of sugar.

Why do humans have such a predisposition for cardiovascular and other lifestyle diseases? One conceptual framework that is gaining currency is the allostatic load model. Allostatic load is the sum of stresses to which we are subjected over the course of a lifetime. The stresses may be physical, such as injuries and infections, or psychosocial, such as divorce or exams....

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.