Our modern world has irrevocably tied heart disease with an unhealthy lifestyle, which includes lack of exercise and consuming too much junk food, alcohol and tobacco. However, a CT scan of over 130 mummified corpses showed heart attacks and strokes may have afflicted ancient dwellers even before the emergence of junk food, cigarettes and alcoholic beverages.
Of the 137 mummies examined, one-third showed evidence of atherosclerosis, or hardened arteries, which causes heart attacks. The mummies with hardened arteries, including those believed to have lived healthy lifestyles, were older at the time of their death, around 43. But in most cases, the researchers couldn’t say whether the condition caused the mummies’ deaths, according to the Daily Mail report.
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 dated from about 3800 BC to 1900 AD.
Dr. Randall Thompson, a cardiologist at Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute in Kansas City and the study’s lead author, said he wasn’t expecting 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,” Thompson added. “We may have oversold the idea that a healthy lifestyle can completely eliminate your risk.”
But Thompson also advised people to continue living a healthy lifestyle, saying “We don’t have to end up like the mummies.” He went on to say that the risk factor of heart disease can be lowered with good eating habits.
The findings of the study were announced March 10 at a meeting of the American College of Cardiology in San Francisco, and simultaneously published online in the journal Lancet.