Heart disease existed in ancient times

According to a story by Lauren Cox for ABCNews/Health, a recent discovery revealed that mummies housed at the Egyptian National Museum of Antiquities in Cairo showed signs of having had heart disease. Doctors performed a CT scan used in diagnosing people today on the mummies and found calcium deposits in arteries — evidence of plaque build-up that leads to hardening of the arteries. The story also reports the doctors were surprised by their findings: “We thought that we would find it, but maybe very rarely, and we thought that if we did find it, it wouldn’t be so severe,” said Adel H. Allam, the lead author of a letter to the editor.

Is everyone predisposed for heart disease?

People living 3,500 years ago certainly could not have faced the same lifestyle challenges we face today — lack of exercise and a ready supply of processed meats and other foods high in fat and salt. If they still had heart disease in the absence of these factors, perhaps people are predisposed for heart disease. If so, how we expect to avoid the disease today with all the added risk factors?

Does  lifestyle impact one’s risk of heart disease?

While certain people are predisposed for a greater risk of heart disease, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the same lifestyle habits that contribute to heart disease today were also present during the lifetimes of the mummies tested. Only the wealthy were mummified in ancient Egypt, which means that mummies tested probably did not do physical labor related to work and likely led sedentary lifestyles. Being wealthy would also mean they had access to meats high in cholesterol, which were preserved in large amounts of salt during that time.

While I’m not relieved that the mummies had heart disease during their lifetime, I am relieved that lifestyle factors may have played a part in the development of their disease. Modifying lifestyle habits and reducing risk factors that contribute to heart disease — a diet high in fat and salt and a lack of exercise — may have prevented heart disease from developing during the lives of these ancient Egyptians just as it does for people living today.

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