Evidence of Heart Disease Found in Egyptian Mummies

Until now, it’s been thought that modern risk factors like lack of exercise, smoking and unhealthy food habits contribute to heart disease. But, 3,500 year old Egyptian mummies have proved that the disease is not a modern day phenomenon. Recently, a team of scientists from US and Egypt conducted CT scans using six-splice computed X-ray tomography on 22 mummies from the Egyptian National Museum of Antiquities, Cairo. Five experienced cardiovascular imaging physicians were part of the team, that also included cardiologists, Egyptologists and preservationists.

All mummies dating from 1981 BC to 364 AD, were identified to be of high socio-economic class, probably of the Pharaoh’s court or high priests or priestesses. The X-rays of nine of the 16 mummies whose hearts and arteries were identified post mummification, showed evidences of calcium buildup in arteries or paths where arteries should have been, indicating atherosclerosis in them. In some mummies, vascular calcification was observed in up to six arteries.

Atherosclerosis or hardening of arteries is known to cause heart attack and stroke. Three of the mummies who died at age groups of 45 years or older and two younger mummies, had atherosclerosis. However, it could not be ascertained whether they had died due to the disease. Hardening of the arteries was observed in both male as well as female mummies. The oldest mummy was that of Lady Rai, nursemaid to Queen Ahmose Nefertari, who died around 1530 BC, between 30 to 40 years of age. She lived about 300 years before Moses and 200 years before King Tutankhamun. Read more on ancient Egyptian mummies and the mummification process.

The ancient Egyptians did not consume processed foods or smoke tobacco, unlike modern-day man. Their diet commonly included meat in the form of cattle, ducks and geese. They used salt to preserve their fish and meat, due to which some of them may have had high blood pressure.