It is generally thought that Atherosclerosis is a consequence of the disordered lifestyle and diet prevalent in today’s industrial world. Many of us also hold the view that older civilizations would not be suffering from atherosclerosis as we did.
However, Whole-body computed tomography (CT) scans of mummies from four geographical regions across a period of 4000 years suggest that atherosclerosis was more common in ancient populations than previously believed. Studying individuals from ancient Egypt, ancient Peru, ancestral Puebloans of southwestern America, and hunter-gatherers from the Aleutian Islands, researchers were able to identify atherosclerosis in more than one-third of the mummified specimens, raising the possibility that humans have a natural predisposition to the disease.
The findings show for the first time that the disease was common in several ancient cultures with varying lifestyles, diets, and genetics, across a wide geographical distance and over a very long span of human history.
The study is published March 10, 2013 in the Lancet.
Led by Dr Randall Thompson (University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine), the research is unique in that it assesses atherosclerosis across four different preindustrial populations from different geographical regions. The ancient Egyptians and Peruvians were farmers, the ancestral Puebloans were forager-farmers, and the Unangans of the Aleutian Islands were hunter-gatherers without agriculture. None of the cultures was known to be vegetarian, and all were believed to be quite physically active.
In total, whole-body CT scans were performed on 137 mummies, including 76 ancient Egyptians, 51 ancient Peruvians, five ancestral Puebloans, and five Unangan hunter-gatherers. Probable or definite atherosclerosis was evident in 34% of the mummies—29 ancient Egyptians, 13 ancient Peruvians, two ancestral Puebloans, and three Unangan mummies had documented evidence of atherosclerosis as defined by calcified plaque in the wall of the artery (or probable atherosclerosis if calcifications were observed along the course of the artery).
The study concluded that atherosclerosis was common in four preindustrial populations, including a preagricultural hunter-gather population, and across a wide span of human history. It still remains prevalent in contemporary human beings. The presence of atherosclerosis in premodern human beings suggests that the disease is an inherent component of human aging and not associated with any specific diet or lifestyle.”