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Heart Disease Found in 4,000-Year-Old Mummies

Egyptian mummies in Ägyptisches Museum Berlin
Egyptian mummies in Ägyptisches Museum Berlin. Credit: Yair Haklai / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

A recent study has revealed that heart disease is not just a modern issue. Researchers found evidence of heart disease in ancient mummies from around the world. Dr. Randall C. Thompson, a cardiologist, led the study, which was published in the European Heart Journal.

The study, known as the Global HORUS Study, examined 237 adult mummies from different cultures and time periods, covering 4,000 years. A press release from the Saint Luke’s Mid-America Heart Institute (SLMAHI), says that the CT scans showed that over 37 percent of these mummies had signs of atherosclerosis. This condition, which clogs arteries, can cause heart attacks and strokes.

Heart disease is “literally older than Moses”

Dr. Thompson stated that heart disease is “literally older than Moses,” highlighting that it has been affecting humans for thousands of years.

Dr. Thompson’s colleague got the idea for the study after seeing a mummy at an exhibition in Cairo, Egypt, he told KCTV5. The mummy’s plaque said he died of atherosclerosis, a condition usually linked to modern lifestyle habits.

This surprised them because they believed ancient people wouldn’t have had this disease, and even if they did, how would anyone have known?

“As cardiologists, we said, ‘Atherosclerosis? He couldn’t of because that’s a modern disease, and how would they have known anyway?” he told the channel.

Atherosclerosis was found in all time periods even before 2,500 BCE

The study looked at mummies from the past 4,000 years and from seven different cultures worldwide. It found plaque in important arteries, indicating that heart disease may have affected people throughout history.

“We found atherosclerosis in all time periods—dating before 2,500 BCE—in both men and women, in all seven cultures that were studied, and in both elites and non-elites,” Thompson said, according to the press release. “This further supports our previous observation that it is not just a modern condition caused by our modern lifestyles.”

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and globally, responsible for one in five deaths in 2021, according to the CDC.

Dr. Thompson’s study shows that heart disease has always been present in humans. However, he emphasized that modern habits like smoking, inactivity, and poor diet can increase the risk of developing the disease.

“This is why it is all the more important to control the risk factors we can control,” he added.

The study acknowledges some limitations, such as differences in preservation quality and how the mummification process might have affected tissue. Despite these challenges, the researchers took a cautious approach when identifying atherosclerosis in the scans, according to the press release.

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