Atherosclerosis is what happens when your arteries fill up with layers of fat and white blood cells. It's a disease of chronic inflammation that increases your risk of stroke and heart attack. It's also a disease we tend to associate with the modern era — commonly cited risk factors include cigarette smoking, obesity, and stress. But there are some signs that we may not have a great handle on what actually causes atherosclerosis. That's because ancient mummies, from all over the world, have shown signs of the disease. It's unclear what this means at this point — for instance, just because ancient people didn't light up a Marlboro from time to time doesn't mean they weren't exposed to smoke and particulate matter from indoor cooking fires. But it's fascinating to see a disease of modernity affecting the past.

15 Responses to “Mummies had a form of chronic cardiovascular disease”

  1. Tribune says:

    Can’t get to the full text – is it possible that mummification will produce a phenocopy of ¬†Atherosclerosis? Anyone going to volunteer to be mummified to answer this question?

    • Brainspore says:

      Even a cursory look at most ancient remains will tell you that their real health problem was malnutrition. The poor guys are just skin and bones!

  2. DiabloD3 says:

    So, in other words, they had a diet high in Omega 6, low in Omega 3, Vitamin D, Vitamin A, Magnesium, Zinc, Copper, and other micronutrients?

    • Ralph says:

      Too much meat?

      • DiabloD3 says:

        No, not enough. Grass fed beef (which would have naturally existed at the time, and not the corn fed anti-beef they shovel down our throats today) is naturally high in Omega 3. Also, fish can be high in Omega 3.

        Egypt was well known for its agricultural prowess, so they basically ate themselves to an early death.

        • Dlo Burns says:

          I thought the Egyptians ate lots of fish from the Nile (like they found fish jerky in a variety of tombs).

          • DiabloD3 says:

            I imagine not enough fish. And not all fish species are a good source of Omega 3. From what I’ve seen, its usually cold water species that are high in it, and the Nile is not cold water.

      • m_a_s says:

        Drinking cow milk instead of their mummies milk.

  3. PhosPhorious says:

    Maybe if they spent less time seeking vengeance on the living and more time dieting and exercising, they wouldn’t have cardiovascular disease.

    Just sayin’.

  4. Purplecat says:

    I wouldn’t be surprised to find it in these populations.

    The heart of the matter is that CHD isn’t necessarily a disease of affluence. If you happen to survive traumatic death, and infection, something like this will get you. And the sample of people who were mummified may well come from a population who by definition did not suffer early infectious or traumatic deaths.

    Also, for all the focus on diet or smoke-filled environments, key determinants of the risk of death from CHD are

    often overlooked.

  5. m_a_s says:

    Disease of Modernity?  Says who?

  6. MollyMaguire says:

    Compared to the span of time over which humans have been evolving, 4000 years ago is still modern. It’s possible that any diet and culture adopted by humans after leaving the habitat in which they evolved to thrive in, namely East Africa, is/was not ideal.

  7. Snig says:

    It certainly explains why they walk so slowly.

  8. Gay Timmons says:

    The oft cited statistic is that over 50% of Americans die due to cardiovascular diseases. The article about the mummies showed 25 to 30% of them had evidence of CV disease. Seems to me that the we have exacerbated an existing human tendency.

  9. Dlo Burns says:

    It seems to me there is a ‘design-flaw’ in humans relating to the heart. I wonder if it has something to do with being¬†bipedal.

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