Study: Even Ancient Mummies Had Clogged Arteries - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Study: Even Ancient Mummies Had Clogged Arteries

Posted: Updated:

LONDON (AP) - Even without modern-day temptations like fast food or cigarettes, people had clogged arteries some 4,000 years ago, according to the biggest-ever hunt for the condition in mummies.

Researchers say that suggests heart disease may be more a natural part of human aging rather than being directly tied to contemporary risk factors like smoking, eating fatty foods and not exercising.

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.

The mummies with clogged arteries were older at the time of their death, around 43 versus 32 for those without the condition. In most cases, scientists couldn't say whether the heart disease killed them.

The study results were announced Sunday at a meeting of the American College of Cardiology in San Francisco and simultaneously published online in the journal Lancet.

Thompson said he was surprised to see hardened arteries even in people like the ancient Aleutians who were presumed to have a healthy lifestyle as hunter-gatherers.

"I think it's fair to say people should feel less guilty about getting heart disease in modern times," he said. "We may have oversold the idea that a healthy lifestyle can completely eliminate your risk."

Thompson said there could be unknown factors that contributed to the mummies' narrowed arteries. He said the Ancestral Puebloans who lived in underground caves in modern-day Colorado and Utah, used fire for heat and cooking, producing a lot of smoke.

"They were breathing in a lot of smoke and that could have had the same effect as cigarettes," he said.

Previous studies have found evidence of heart disease in Egyptian mummies, but the Lancet paper is the largest survey so far and the first to include mummies elsewhere in the world.

Dr. Frank Ruehli of the University of Zurich, who runs the Swiss Mummy Project, said it was clear atherosclerosis was notably present in antiquity and agreed there might be a genetic predisposition to the disease.

"Humans seem to have a particular vulnerability (to heart disease) and it will be interesting to see what genes are involved," he said. Ruehli was not connected to the study. "This is a piece in the puzzle that may tell us something important about the evolution of disease."

Other experts warned against reading too much into the mummy data.

Dr. Mike Knapton, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said calcified arteries could also be caused by other ailments including endocrine disorders and that it was impossible to tell from the CT scans if the types of calcium deposits in the mummies were the kind that would have sparked a heart attack or stroke.

"It's a fascinating study but I'm not sure we can say atherosclerosis is an inevitable part of aging," he said, citing the numerous studies that have showed strong links between lifestyle factors and heart disease.

Researcher Thompson advised people to live as healthy a lifestyle as possible, noting that the risk of heart disease could be reduced with good eating habits, not smoking and exercising. "We don't have to end up like the mummies," he said.

  • Most Popular StoriesMost Popular StoriesMore>>

  • Stolen bike didn't roll away unnoticed

    Stolen bike didn't roll away unnoticed

    Wednesday, August 20 2014 10:31 AM EDT2014-08-20 14:31:01 GMT
    SPOKANE, Wash. - When Paul Dannels finished his workout at the Downtown YMCA, he was surprised to see his bike was gone from the bike rack. "I was pretty upset, to be honest...mad, and discouraged, and depressed because I knew I couldn't replace it," said Dannels. A reporter for The Inlander happened to be at the YMCA when the bike was stolen.>>
    SPOKANE, Wash. - When Paul Dannels finished his workout at the Downtown YMCA, he was surprised to see his bike was gone from the bike rack. "I was pretty upset, to be honest...mad, and discouraged, and depressed because I knew I couldn't replace it," said Dannels. A reporter for The Inlander happened to be at the YMCA when the bike was stolen.
    >>
  • Another American hostage at risk by Islamic State after U.S. journalist beheaded

    Another American hostage at risk by Islamic State after U.S. journalist beheaded

    Wednesday, August 20 2014 10:15 AM EDT2014-08-20 14:15:08 GMT
    WASHINGTON (AP) - Militants with the Islamic State extremist group have beheaded American journalist James Foley and are threatening to kill another hostage in retaliation for U.S. air strikes in northern Iraq. The White House must now weigh the risks of adopting an aggressive policy to destroy the Islamic State against resisting any action that could result in the death of another American.>>
    WASHINGTON (AP) - Militants with the Islamic State extremist group have beheaded American journalist James Foley and are threatening to kill another hostage in retaliation for U.S. air strikes in northern Iraq. The White House must now weigh the risks of adopting an aggressive policy to destroy the Islamic State against resisting any action that could result in the death of another American.>>
  • HEALTH ALERT: Peanut butter recall for salmonella

    HEALTH ALERT: Peanut butter recall for salmonella

    Wednesday, August 20 2014 9:50 AM EDT2014-08-20 13:50:34 GMT
    KHQ.COM - The FDA announced a peanut butter recall on August 19th. nSpired Natural Foods, Inc. is voluntarily recalling certain retail lots of Arrowhead Mills® Peanut Butters, MaraNatha® Almond Butters and Peanut Butters and specific private label nut butters packaged in glass and plastic jars because they have the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella. >>>LINK TO RECALL LIST INSIDE>>>>>
    KHQ.COM - The FDA announced a peanut butter recall on August 19th. nSpired Natural Foods, Inc. is voluntarily recalling certain retail lots of Arrowhead Mills® Peanut Butters, MaraNatha® Almond Butters and Peanut Butters and specific private label nut butters packaged in glass and plastic jars because they have the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella. >>>LINK TO RECALL LIST INSIDE>>>
    >>
  • National NewsMore>>

  • Wife: Robin Williams had early stages of Parkinson's Disease at time of death

    Wife: Robin Williams had early stages of Parkinson's Disease at time of death

    Thursday, August 14 2014 3:26 PM EDT2014-08-14 19:26:01 GMT
    SPOKANE, Wash. - Actor and comedian Robin Williams was sober but struggling with the early stages of Parkinson's Disease at the time of his death, according to his wife. Williams' wife released the following statement Thursday:>>
    SPOKANE, Wash. - Actor and comedian Robin Williams was sober but struggling with the early stages of Parkinson's Disease at the time of his death, according to his wife. Williams' wife released the following statement Thursday:>>
  • Passenger plane crashes in Iran

    Passenger plane crashes in Iran

    Sunday, August 10 2014 2:15 AM EDT2014-08-10 06:15:55 GMT
    TEHRAN, Iran (AP) - State television in Iran is reporting that a small passenger plane has crashed into a residential complex in the capital, Tehran. There was no immediate word on casualties from the crash Sunday.State TV reported that a Taban Air plane crashed while taking off from an airport west of Tehran. >>
    TEHRAN, Iran (AP) - State television in Iran is reporting that a small passenger plane has crashed into a residential complex in the capital, Tehran. There was no immediate word on casualties from the crash Sunday.State TV reported that a Taban Air plane crashed while taking off from an airport west of Tehran. >>
  • General is highest ranking Army officer killed in Iraq or Afghanistan

    General is highest ranking Army officer killed in Iraq or Afghanistan

    Tuesday, August 5 2014 5:00 PM EDT2014-08-05 21:00:13 GMT
    WASHINGTON (AP) - An American general has become the highest-ranking U.S. Army officer to be killed in the Iraq or Afghanistan wars. >>
    WASHINGTON (AP) - An American general has become the highest-ranking U.S. Army officer to be killed in the Iraq or Afghanistan wars. A Pentagon spokesman says the general was killed in an apparent insider attack today by a member of the Afghan security forces. The shooting wounded another 15 people, about half of them Americans.>>