Fresh across the wires: Study: Even ancient mummies had clogged arteries
CT scans of 137 mummies showed evidence of atherosclerosis, or hardened arteries, in one third of those examined, including those from ancient people believed to have healthy lifestyles. Atherosclerosis causes heart attacks and strokes. 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 B.C. to 1900 A.D.
“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.
Haven’t gotten a hold of the actual paper yet, but here is the abstract (a portion quoted):
Probable or definite atherosclerosis was noted in 47 (34%) of 137 mummies and in all four geographical populations: 29 (38%) of 76 ancient Egyptians, 13 (25%) of 51 ancient Peruvians, two (40%) of five Ancestral Puebloans, and three (60%) of five Unangan hunter gatherers (p=NS). Atherosclerosis was present in the aorta in 28 (20%) mummies, iliac or femoral arteries in 25 (18%), popliteal or tibial arteries in 25 (18%), carotid arteries in 17 (12%), and coronary arteries in six (4%). Of the five vascular beds examined, atherosclerosis was present in one to two beds in 34 (25%) mummies, in three to four beds in 11 (8%), and in all five vascular beds in two (1%). Age at time of death was positively correlated with atherosclerosis (mean age at death was 43 [SD 10] years for mummies with atherosclerosis vs 32  years for those without; p<0·0001) and with the number of arterial beds involved (mean age was 32 [SD 15] years for mummies with no atherosclerosis, 42  years for those with atherosclerosis in one or two beds, and 44  years for those with atherosclerosis in three to five beds; p<0·0001).
I can’t get to the full article through the university library yet (I may be able to, I just can’t figure out how to access early online pub stuff). I like the fact that they got a variety of mummies from different areas, times, environments, and subsistence regimes. The abstract doesn’t get into enough detail as to what the differences in subsistence were, but the thing that stuck out to me was the age difference: 43 vs. 32 for those with and without, respectively. I think in a slightly earlier post I speculated as to whether heart disease might be much more age-related than diet or lifestyle related, much like cancer appears to be.
The primary difficulty I see at this point is probably the relative lack of true hunter-gatherers, even though some are included in the study. HG mummies are hard to come by, as are HG skeletons in general, at least compared with their sedentary agriculturalist brethren, so we really know quite a lot less about their health than we do about sedentary peoples. Will definitely do another post when I can find the whole paper.