Heart disease evident in mummies

By Laura Mize • Published: January 21st, 2010
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

With greasy cheeseburgers aplenty, too much TV time and schedules too busy for exercise, it’s no wonder many Americans face heart disease, right?

Researchers writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association have uncovered something you may find surprising: heart disease in mummies. An Egyptian cardiologist teamed up with four American doctors to conduct CT scans of twenty-two ancient Egyptian mummies kept in a museum in Cairo. They found cardiovascular tissue in sixteen.

A closer look revealed that five of the mummies had atherosclerosis, a buildup of waxy, fatty plaque in the blood vessels that could lead to heart attacks. Researchers said four more had “probable atherosclerosis.”

Scholars are divided on what the findings mean. Some say they are evidence that even people with nutritious diets and active lifestyles develop heart disease.

But don’t take this information as license to cozy up on the couch with a giant pizza. Other scholars say these ancient Egyptians could have eaten their culture’s equivalent of junk food and led sedentary lives.

The study authors note that most of the mummies scanned were from royal or prestigious religious circles in Egyptian society. According to the Smithsonian Institution, mummification was an expensive process performed mostly on the bodies of upper class Egyptians. It’s possible these people had more luxurious, and unhealthy, lifestyles than most other Egyptians.

Whatever the cause of the mummies’ atherosclerosis, measures to keep your arteries unblocked are still important. The American Heart Association recommends a healthy diet, regular exercise and weight management as key steps in avoiding heart disease.