The latest study finds four-thousand-years old mummies showing signs of heart diseases. It suggests that heart problems were way more common even thousands of years ago.
The previous studies showed arterial calcium accumulation in arteries of mummies by using dissection and X-ray computed tomography (CT) scanning. However their studies were only able to detect the damage that shows up at later stages of heart problems. This current study is completing the picture of heart disease risk in ancient humans.
Scanning the arterial sections under the microscope
In this study, the researchers analyzed human arteries. These samples were from five mummies from South America and ancient Egypt. They were able to detect earlier-stage atherosclerosis in arteries. This appears as plaque assembles on arterial walls. In later stages, this plaque accumulation restricts blood flow.
The lead author of this study, Mohammad Madjid works as an assistant professor in Cardiovascular Medicine at McGovern Medical School, University of Texas Health Science Center, Houston. He has been working on cardiac conditions for more than 20 years. But one basic question that always hits his mind was if this is a modern age disease or heart problems were common in ancient humans too?
To find answers to this, Madjid and his fellow researcher planned to study arterial samples from mummies dating between 2000 B.C. to A.D. 1000. These mummies were three men and two women, between the ages of 18 years and 60 years.
The scanning of the arteries section was difficult as it was very tiny in size. But this scanning showed small lesions, which are of a result of cholesterol accumulation. This is a leading precursor for the plaque buildup which later on blocks arteries and causes a heart attack or heart failure. This is the first-ever study on ancient humans showing signs of heart diseases.
Previous studies on mummies show later stage heart diseases
Before this study, many other pieces of research found a later stage plaque accumulation in mummies from Greenland origin. They were dated to 500 years old. Similar research on Egyptian mummies dating 3000 years also showed similar results. The recent CT scan study of the mummified Ice Age hunter Ötzi in 2018 also showed plaque in arteries near the heart.
What does the plaque accumulation show?
The cholesterol or plaque remains on arterial walls shows that the body’s natural wound healing process is not efficient. It is usually an outcome of multiple traumas such as infections, blood pressure, high cholesterol or any environmental factor that may cause this damage. Anything that damages the inner lining of arteries endothelium affects it.
The natural inflammatory response is an essential part of wound healing. But the damage to arterial walls makes it highly susceptible to cholesterol accumulation. First, it forms lesions and then thickens the blood, causing a heart attack.
Today, understanding all these processes is comparatively easier. But many people criticize modern life to cause heart diseases. However, the similar patterns in these mummies show that it is not new and it may be an inherent part of our bodies.