The milk-drinking Masai absolutely do have atherosclerosis

Dr  T. Colin Campbell, veteran biochemist, nutritional researcher and leader of the twenty year China Study, says there is compelling evidence that diseases like atherosclerosis, type 1 diabetes, breast cancer, and  multiple sclerosis – conditions which are rare in China – are linked to the consumption in the West of animal fat and protein. In other words to milk and meat. This has upset a number of people like Denise Minger, a  24-year-old web designer who has posted a critique of Campbell’s conclusions on the web. 

According to Minger, the Masai, who consume copious amounts of milk and meat, don’t suffer from atherosclerosis and this she says disproves Campbell’s ‘hypothesis.’ Referring to a 1969 paper by researcher George Mann,she says:

After conducting a field survey of 400 Masai in the 1960s, researchers Mann et al observed that “Despite a long continued diet of exclusively meat and milk the men have low levels of serum cholesterol and no evidence for arteriosclerotic heart disease.

What Minger does not tell her readers is that in a subsequent definitive  study by Mann, all fifty Masai on whom autopsies were performed were found to be suffering from severe atherosclerosis.

Measurements of the aorta showed extensive atherosclerosis…which equaled that of old U.S. men.

The title Atherosclerosis in the Masai,’ would be hard for any researcher – especially one supposedly as thorough as Minger – investigating this topic to miss. (When I googled ‘Atherosclerosis Masai’, it came up third). She surely knows about it since  a supporter of hers has a full page of his website devoted to its discussion.

The reason Mann did not not see the cardiac events that might have suggested underlying atheroslerosis in his first study was revealed in the autopsies done in this second study. As a result of their rigorous physical training, the Masai’s arteries were greatly enlarged and this compensated for the narrowing of the arteries due to the thickening of the artery walls.

The moral of the story is, if you want to eat like a Masai warrior and live to a reasonable age, you should get the same amount of exercise as them –  30 km walking every day for starters. There is no guarantee though that this will keep you free of heart disease in the older years. With an average life expectancy of 42 years few Masai men live long enough for us to be able to tell.


2 comments on “The milk-drinking Masai absolutely do have atherosclerosis

  1. Hi Ruben,

    I should change the bit about the Masai since it’s indeed true they had atherosclerosis (though not heart attacks, paradoxically) — I hadn’t researched it thoroughly enough when I first posted. The interesting part, though, is that the Masai have the best cardiovascular health during the period of their lives where they consume the most milk, meat, and blood; it’s only before and after this period (when they’re eating flour, vegetable oils, and other processed products) that they develop severe atherosclerosis. Stephan Guyenet has a nice explanation:

  2. Denise,
    I find it hard to believe that your omission of Mann’s important study was just sloppy research. The 1971 paper is readily available, and has been discussed in a number of blogs by people who post to your blog. Its omission, and the misleading conclusion which is a result, has continued despite your assurances.

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