Ancient Hearts Under Wraps: Mummies Reveal a Prehistoric Battle with Heart Disease

Heart disease, the leading cause of death worldwide, is often thought to be a modern, lifestyle-driven problem. However, studies conducted on ancient mummies show that this deadly illness has been present in human populations for thousands of years. These findings indicate that hardening of the arteries may be a natural part of the human aging process, and that our understanding of heart disease may be incomplete.

Mummies Show Signs of Heart Disease

Contrary to the belief that heart disease is exclusive to modern populations, researchers discovered signs of the illness in ancient mummies from various parts of the world, even dating back 5,000 years ago. One notable example is Otzi the Iceman, a well-preserved natural mummy discovered frozen in a glacier in the Italian Alps, who also had calcified carotid arteries.

The research involved performing CT scans on 137 mummies from different continents and eras. Surprisingly, artery plaque, an indicator of heart disease, was found in every population studied, from pre-agricultural hunter-gatherers in the Aleutian Islands to ancient Puebloans in the southwestern United States.

Atherosclerosis – A Serial Killer in History

Atherosclerosis, the hardening of the arteries, was detected in 34 percent of the studied mummies. The research also revealed that arterial calcification was more pronounced in older individuals at the time of their death. Moreover, the presence of atherosclerosis was equally common in both male and female mummies.

These findings imply that heart disease has been harming humanity for thousands of years. According to the researchers, atherosclerotic vascular disease has overtaken infectious diseases as the leading cause of death across the developed world within the last century. Many people assume that adopting pre-industrial or pre-agricultural lifestyles could be the key to evading heart disease, but this research challenges that notion.

The Connection Between Aging and Heart Disease

The discovery of arterial plaque in ancient mummies raises several questions about the underlying causes of heart disease. On the one hand, it might be inherent to human aging, and on the other hand, we may not yet fully understand the different factors that contribute to the development of atherosclerosis. Additionally, this research suggests that modern lifestyles may not be the sole cause of the rise in heart disease cases.

Implications for Modern Populations

While the study of ancient mummies does not provide a definite answer to why heart disease has plagued humanity for thousands of years, it does offer valuable insights into the nature of this devastating illness. Recognizing that heart disease may not be exclusively linked to modern lifestyle factors is essential, as it encourages researchers to explore other potential causes and develop new strategies for prevention and treatment.

Although it is evident that lifestyle choices play a role in heart disease risk, this research indicates that the issue is more complex than previously thought. Numerous factors, including genetics, nutrition, environment, and the natural aging process, can contribute to the development of heart disease.

Concluding Thoughts

Despite the common belief that heart disease is a problem unique to modern society, recent studies of ancient mummies show that it has been a part of human history for thousands of years. Whether the hardening of the arteries is an inherent part of the aging process or caused by other unknown factors, this research has broadened our understanding of the roots of heart disease.

By learning more about the history and development of atherosclerosis, researchers can delve deeper into the causes and potential treatments for this deadly disease. As with any medical condition, understanding its origins is essential for creating effective prevention measures and therapies, and heart disease is no exception. As such, the study of ancient mummies and their arterial plaque may hold the key to unlocking vital insights into the history and nature of heart disease, ultimately helping to save millions of lives in the process.