Mummies Cursed with Heart Disease

For the past few decades, doctors have been researching the effects of modern-day risk factors on the development of heart disease. They’ve been considering the impact of fast food malnutrition, habitual smoking, lack of physical activity, and uncontrolled stress levels, all of which are considered to be related to contemporary lifestyles. However, a research team led by Dr. Greg Thomas from UC Irvine recently unwrapped the truth about cardiovascular disease. This group traveled to Egypt with the goal of proving the presence of heart disease amongst well-preserved mummified bodies. What they found was astounding. By scanning 52 ancient Egyptian mummies, they were able to identify signs of atherosclerosis in nearly half of the bodies. Furthermore, they were able to pinpoint coronary atherosclerosis in several of the mummies, one of whom was an Egyptian princess who lived between 1550 and 1580 BCE. Atherosclerosis involves the hardening of arteries from a buildup of plaque, making it more difficult for the heart to provide oxygenated blood to the rest of the body. Because of this defect, the heart is forced to work at an accelerated rate in order to maintain proper blood supply, over time causing the development of conditions such as coronary heart disease.

Various research teams have since revealed similar findings in mummies found in Peru, Italy, and Alaska, ranging across 4000 years of human history. These follow-up studies have continued to prove the existence of atherosclerosis amongst pre-agricultural hunter-gatherer populations. Otzi the Iceman, a mummy of significant interest in this field of research, was found high up in the Italian Alps in the early 1990’s. He was thought to have lived a fairly healthy lifestyle with vigorous exercise, a balanced diet, and no possible access to tobacco. However, his scans showed calcifications in the arteries surrounding his heart, indicating the early onset of atherosclerosis. Had he lived past the age of 50, Dr. Greg Thomas predicted that he would have likely died of a heart attack or stroke as a result of advanced cardiovascular disease. According to an analysis of Otzi’s genome, he had a genetic susceptibility for developing coronary heart disease due to two chromosomal variations, both of which were not thought to exist beyond pre-modern society, raising the possibility of a more fundamental predisposition to the disease than we had originally assumed.

The implications of these discoveries are huge, as they are evidence that the disease is not just a modern epidemic, but a hallmark of the human condition. This has opened the door to new risk factors that span beyond the modern influences, allowing doctors to evaluate heart disease patients with a more holistic approach.

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