Ancients ‘had heart disease too’
Hardening of the arteries has been found in Egyptian mummies – suggesting that the risk factors for heart disease may be ancient, researchers say. A team of US and Egyptian scientists carried out medical scans on 22 mummies from Cairo’s Museum of Antiquities. They found evidence of hardened arteries in three of them and possible heart disease in three more.
All the mummies were of high socio-economic status and would have had a rich diet. Details of the study by the University of California, the Mid America Heart Institute, Wisconsin Heart Hospital and Al Azhar Medical School in Cairo appear in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The team said the subjects’ bodies had been preserved by mummification because they were serving in the court of the Pharaoh or were priests or priestesses. The X-rays were checked by five experienced cardiovascular imaging physicians on the team.
They showed that 16 of the 22 mummies had identifiable arteries or hearts left in their bodies after the mummification process. Nine of these had calcified deposits in the wall of the artery leading to the heart or in the path where the artery should have been.
Some mummies had calcification in up to six different arteries. Definite hardened arteries or atherosclerosis, in other words a build-up of fat, cholesterol, calcium and other substances in the blood vessels, was present in three.
Of the mummies who had died when they were older than 45, seven out of eight had calcification whereas only two out of eight of the younger mummies did. There were no differences in calcification between men and women.
‘No hunter-gatherers’ The researchers said that while ancient Egyptians did not smoke tobacco, eat processed food or lead sedentary lives, they were not hunter-gatherers.
Agriculture was well-established and meat consumption appears to have been common among those of high social status. Dr Gregory Thomas, from the University of California, said: “While we do not know whether atherosclerosis caused the demise of any of the mummies in the study, we can confirm that the disease was present in many.
“So humans in ancient times had the genetic predisposition and environment to promote the development of heart disease. “The findings suggest that we may have to look beyond modern risk factors to fully understand the disease.”