Heart disease is one of the prevailing ailments among adults across the world, but this may not be as new of a threat to the human condition as once believed. New research that “unwraps” mummies with the use of CT scans suggests that heart disease and atherosclerosis (hardened arteries) have plagued humans since before the dawn of fast food and cigarettes.
Researchers took scans of 137 mummies not only from Egypt but also from Peru, southwest America and the Aleutian islands in Alaska. Of these scanned, one third showed signs of atherosclerosis which is surprising when you take into consideration their historical origins. Ranging from 3800 B.C. to 1900 A.D., it is widely believed that ancient people of these times had lifestyles that were very healthy in comparison to modern day lifestyles.
Scientists were not always able to determine if heart disease was the cause of death, but the mummies showing signs of clogged arteries were on average older at their time of death than mummies without the condition. This is also not the first study of its kind but is the first to include mummies originating from outside of Egypt.
While it can be easy to conclude that we should relinquish our guilt about heart disease and attribute it to human genetics as a whole, this is not entirely correct. Ancient humans were exposed to a plethora of different conditions which could create a risk for atherosclerosis such as indoor fires and smoky environments or endocrine disorders that would be impossible to determine with the CT scans.
The suggestion that arises from this research is that humans might have a genetic predisposition to heart disease. Moving forward it is important to take this as an understanding that preventative measures against heart disease are that much more important, and not to be dismissed from an idea that atherosclerosis is beyond our control. According to Dr. Randall Thompson, the lead author, “we don’t have to end up like the mummies.”
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