[QODLink]
Americas

Clogged arteries found in ancient mummies

Study finds people from 4,000 years ago vulnerable to problem, showing heart disease may be basic human predisposition.
Last Modified: 11 Mar 2013 11:50
The CT scans of 137 mummies showed evidence of hardened arteries in one third of those examined [AFP]

Researchers have discovered that people living 4,000 years ago were vulnerable to clogged arteries, indicating that heart disease may be more a natural part of human aging, rather than being directly tied to contemporary risk factors like smoking, eating fatty foods, and not excercising.

More than half of the mummies were from Egypt, while the rest were from Peru, southwest America and the Aleutian islands in Alaska. The mummies were from about 3800 BC to 1900 AD.

The study results were announced on Sunday at a meeting of the American College of Cardiology in San Francisco and simultaneously published online in the UK medical journal the Lancet.

The CT scans of 137 mummies showed evidence of atherosclerosis, or hardened arteries, which causes heart attacks and strokes, in one third of those examined, including those from ancient people believed to have healthy lifestyles. 

"Heart disease has been stalking mankind for over 4,000 years all over the globe," said Dr Randall Thompson, a cardiologist at Saint Luke's Mid America Heart Institute in Kansas City and the paper's lead author. 

The mummies with clogged arteries were older at the time of their death, around 43 versus 32 for those without the condition.

In most cases, scientists could not say whether the heart disease killed them.

Previous studies

Thompson said he was surprised to see hardened arteries even in people like the ancient Aleutians who were presumed to have a healthy lifestyle as hunter-gatherers.

"I think it's fair to say people should feel less guilty about getting heart disease in modern times," he said.

"We may have oversold the idea that a healthy lifestyle can completely eliminate your risk."

Thompson said there could be unknown factors that contributed to the mummies' narrowed arteries.

He said the Ancestral Puebloans who lived in underground caves in modern-day Colorado and Utah, used fire for heat and cooking, producing a lot of smoke.

"They were breathing in a lot of smoke and that could have had the same effect as cigarettes," he said.

Previous studies have found evidence of heart disease in Egyptian mummies, but the Lancet paper is the largest survey so far, and the first to include mummies elsewhere in the world.

Genetic predisposition

Frank Ruehli, who runs the University of Zurich's Swiss Mummy Project, said it was clear atherosclerosis was notably present in antiquity and agreed there might be a genetic predisposition to the disease.

"Humans seem to have a particular vulnerability [o heart disease] and it will be interesting to see what genes are involved," he said.

"This is a piece in the puzzle that may tell us something important about the evolution of disease," said Ruehli who was not connected to the study.

Other experts warned against reading too much into the mummy data.

Mike Knapton, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said calcified arteries could also be caused by other ailments, including endocrine disorders, and that it was impossible to tell from the CT scans if the types of calcium deposits in the mummies were the kind that would have sparked a heart attack or stroke.

"It's a fascinating study but I'm not sure we can say atherosclerosis is an inevitable part of aging," he said, citing the numerous studies that have showed strong links between lifestyle factors and heart disease.

Thompson advised people to live as healthy a lifestyle as possible, noting that the risk of heart disease could be reduced with good eating habits, not smoking and exercising.

"We don't have to end up like the mummies," he said.

547

Source:
Agencies
Topics in this article
People
Country
City
Organisation
Featured on Al Jazeera
Italy struggles to deal with growing flood of migrants willing to risk their lives to reach the nearest European shores.
Israel's Operation Protective Edge is the third major offensive on the Gaza Strip in six years.
Muslims and Arabs in the US say they face discrimination in many areas of life, 13 years after the 9/11 attacks.
At one UN site alone, approximately four children below the age of five are dying each day.
Featured
The conservative UMP party suffers from crippling internal divisions and extreme debt from mismanagement.
More than fifty years of an armed struggle for independence from Spain might be coming to an end in the Basque Country.
After the shooting-down of flight MH17, relatives ask what the carrier has learned from still-missing MH370.
Human rights and corporate responsibility prompt a US church to divest from companies doing business with Israel.
Afghan militias have accumulated a lengthy record of human-rights abuses, including murders and rapes.
join our mailing list