Even 16th-Century Mummies Had Heart Disease | New Report

  • Researchers find signs of atherosclerosis in 500-year-old mummies from Greenland.
  • CT scans of 5 mummies unveiled telltale hardened calcium deposits in their chest blood vessels. 

One of the most common cardiovascular (heart) diseases, named atherosclerosis, affects more than 3 million people in the United States. It alters the blood flow around the body, posing the risk of serious complications.

The exact cause is still unknown. Risk factors include obesity, diabetes, smoking, unhealthy diet, high blood pressure, and abnormal cholesterol levels. All these factors are a part of a modern lifestyle.

But recently, an international team of anthropologists and researchers found signs of heart disease in 500-year-old mummies from Greenland. They performed CT scans of 5 mummies (1 child and 4 young adults from an Inuit community), which showed telltale hardened calcium deposits in chest blood vessels.

The study was a part of a bigger project to examine mummies from pre-industrial civilization to search for hints of cardiovascular diseases. All CT scans were performed in Brigham and Women’s Hospital in 2018.

What Lies In Our Ancestors’ Hearts?

It is intriguing to analyze our ancestors who lived several centuries ago and get rich insights that can help make our present and future better. In this case, researchers were searching for signs of plaque in the arteries (atherosclerosis) to see whether one of the major causes of death in the United States today was also common hundreds of years ago.

In case you don’t know, a plaque is made up of calcium, cholesterol, fat and other compounds found the in blood. When arteries become too thin, they lose their ability to effectively transport oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood to parts of the body.

This is not the first time someone has presented evidence of heart diseases in CT scans of mummies. Over the last few years, many researchers have studied mummies from distinct geographical regions, including China, Syria, Korea, Peru, Egypt, and Aleutian islands.

However, the mummified remains from Greenland were a special subject of study because of their diet that majorly included fish and sea mammals. 

Diet And Lifestyle

Mummies Had Heart DiseaseCourtesy of researchers 

Usually, the consumption of fish is considered as a healthy habit for heart, which makes these findings seem astonishing. As per researchers, there is still a lot to learn about what’s healthy and what’s unhealthy for heart. For instance, in the present era, some fishes contain high cholesterol and toxins like polychlorinated biphenyls and mercury that could pose risk.

There could be numerous other lifestyle factors that may have contributed to heart disease in the 16th century, for example, exposure to cooking smoke. But since the researchers have studied only five mummies, nothing can be known for certain.

Read: IBM’s New AI Simulates Heart’s Functions Within Minutes

Furthermore, scanning mummies is quite easier than scanning living individuals because the scanner has to precisely capture the movements of a beating heart (in living patients). However, both cases require a different perspective to interpret the images.

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