Heart disease among ancient mummies common

Heart disease among ancient mummies common

A new study recently published in The Lancet reveals that atherosclerosis - hardening of the arteries - was a lot more common among mummies and ancient peoples than previously thought.

A total of 137 mummies from ancient Egypt, Peru, southwest America, and the Aleutian Islands in Alaska - some up to 4000 years old - were analyzed by the researchers.

The finding suggest that predisposition to atherosclerosis may have been common in ancient times, because people had risk factors that most health experts thought were exclusive to modern times - physical inactivity, bad diet, smoking and obesity.

The researchers conducted CT scans on the 137 ancient mummies to try and identify any signs of atherosclerosis - a build up of a hard substance along the artery walls. Among the mummies whose arterial substance remained intact, the scientists were able to determine whether they suffered from atherosclerosis.

The arterial structure didn't survive in some of the mummies, but the calcified plaque was still evident, which indicated that they probably suffered from the disease at some point.

Cardiovascular disease may have been much more common in ancient times

Just over a third of the mummies (34%) showed signs of probable or definite atherosclerosis. The disease was more prevalent among older people - they were able to calculate the age of death by examining their bone structure.

This is the first study of its kind to look at the extent of atherosclerosis in ancient humans from various different parts of the world, at different times.

Perhaps ancient kings and queens sat a lot and did no exercise

A previous study that focused on ancient Egyptian mummies similarly identified a high rate of the disease. However many speculated that it could have been due to the fact that most of the people mummified in ancient Egypt were wealthy and ate foods high in saturated fats and led fairly sedentary lives - diets high in saturated fats can increase the risk of developing atherosclerosis.

Professor Randall Thompson, of Saint Luke's Mid America Heart Institute in Kansas City, USA, said:

"The fact that we found similar levels of atherosclerosis in all of the different cultures we studied, all of whom had very different lifestyles and diets, suggests that atherosclerosis may have been far more common in the ancient world than previously thought.

Furthermore, the mummies we studied from outside Egypt were produced naturally as a result of local climate conditions, meaning that it's reasonable to assume that these mummies represent a reasonable cross-section of the population, rather than the specially selected elite group of people who were selected for mummification in ancient Egypt."

Professor Thompson concluded:

"A common assumption is that the rise in levels of atherosclerosis is predominantly lifestyle-related, and that if modern humans could emulate pre-industrial or even pre-agricultural lifestyles, that atherosclerosis, or at least its clinical manifestations, would be avoided.

Our findings seem to cast doubt on that assumption, and at the very least, we think they suggest that our understanding of the causes of atherosclerosis is incomplete, and that it might be somehow inherent to the process of human aging."

Heart Disease Found in Mummies 11/10/2015 Audio Podcast (Video Medical And Professional 2020).

Section Issues On Medicine: Cardiology