March 23, 2013
An Ancient Serial Killer Still on the Loose
We are all at risk for heart disease. At least that is what a new study on mummies from up to 4,000 years ago has found. redOrbit reported on the findings published in The Lancet. And they were not particularly heartening—no pun intended.
So, the researchers on this study looked at 137 mummies from all over the world including Egypt, Peru, the southwestern United States, and the Aleutian Islands. They put the mummies into a CT scan to check their organs. What they found was that 47 (just under a third of the total) of the mummies had atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries.
And it was not just the Egyptian royalty who had this. The team found that all four regions’ mummies had evidence of plaque in the arteries in both royalty and commoner mummified corpses, male and female alike. Moreover, the mummies with the most calcification were those who were the oldest at the time of death, which suggested to the researchers that age plays a larger role in heart diseases.
Study co-author Jagat Narula, a paleocardiologist and professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Medical Center explained that this evidence served as a double-standard because people who were better nourished lived longer yet were more likely to develop age-related atherosclerosis.
Obviously, we do not know exactly what these ancient peoples ate and how they lived, but we do know that eating healthy, not smoking, and exercising regularly help to keep the heart strong and prevent heart disease including hardened arteries. What this study shows us is that today’s heart problems are not new. We are not the first generations to suffer from the terrible consequences of heart disease.
As I have written about before, my dad died from a heart attack induced by his diabetes. He had smoked (though he had quit a couple years prior to his attack) and had not exercised enough. Moreover, he also had a family history of heart disease. He was the poster child for heart problems. He had been working on eating healthier, exercising more, and controlling his diabetes, but that was not enough. His heart attack hit hard and fast, and two days later it gave up on him.
Now, of course, that means that we, his children, must also be aware of our hearts. All three of us watch what we eat, exercise regularly, and avoid smoke. We learned from our father’s mistakes in heart health. But we can always learn more. If studying mummies will give us all a greater understanding of arterial plaques and calcification, then I want to see more mummies under the knife, so to speak. If mummies can help us all avoid the pain of tragic heart attacks, then let’s look closer at their remains.
For the past few decades, we have seen heart disease as a solely modern problem due to the fatty diets of today’s humans; however, this study shows that atherosclerosis, calcification, plaque, and other heart disease issues have long since affected humanity. Since heart disease is the number one killer of women and men, this study helps us to better understand the impact and lasting power of this silent killer.
Image Credit: Erik Kalibayev / Shutterstock