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Heart Disease Found in Ancient Egyptian Mummies

Heart disease may appear to be a recent problem, brought on by the processed foods and sedentary lifestyles of modern living, but it's been plaguing humanity since ancient times, according to a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.A team of scientists from the United States ...

The mummy of Esankh, male (1070-712 BCE), undergoes CT scanning (credit: Dr. Michael Miyamoto/UC San Diego)



Heart disease may appear to be a recent problem, brought on by the processed foods and sedentary lifestyles of modern living, but it's been plaguing humanity since ancient times, according to a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.



A team of scientists from the United States and Egypt sent 22 mummies from the Egyptian National Museum of Antiquities in Cairo--some of which were more than 3,000 years old--through a CT scanner. They could see cardiovascular tissue in 16 of the mummies. Five definitely had atherosclerosis (calcification in the arteries), and four more probably had it. Heart disease was more common among the mummies of older individuals than those who died before they reached the age of 45. Some mummies had calcification in multiple arteries.



Risk factors for heart disease include tobacco smoking and eating processed foods, but these couldn't have contributed to the mummies' atherosclerosis as tobacco and processed foods weren't found in Egypt at that time. A sedentary lifestyle is another risk factor, but the study's authors say that even though the mummies were Egyptians of high social status, they were unlikely to have been sedentary. But a further risk factor is diet, and Egyptians of high social status would have eaten meat, including beef, duck and goose.



I guess this is something to consider on my next trip to the burger joint.
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About Sarah Zielinski
Sarah Zielinski

Sarah Zielinski is an award-winning science writer and editor. She is a contributing writer in science for Smithsonian.com and blogs at Wild Things, which appears on Science News.

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