August 07, 2014
Atherosclerosis In Ancient Mummy Bodies Due To Chronic Infection?

Heart disease and stroke have been characterized products of modern civilization. But is that true? CT scans of ancient mummified bodies turned up just as much atherosclerotic disease as found in modern Egyptians.

New research published in Global Heart (the journal of the World Heart Federation) shows that there are no significant differences in the incidence or severity of atherosclerotic disease (narrowing of the arteries with fatty deposits) between ancient and modern Egyptians, showing that atherosclerosis is not just a disease of modern times. The research is by Dr Adel Allam, Al-Azhar University, Cairo, Egypt, and Professor Jagat Narula, Editor-in-Chief of Global Heart and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, USA, and colleagues from the HORUS team of investigators. While the HORUS team has previously reported atherosclerotic vascular calcifications on computed tomography (CT) scans in ancient Egyptians, the purpose of this new study was to compare patterns and demographic characteristics of this disease among Egyptians from both ancient and modern eras. The authors compared the presence and extent of vascular calcifications from whole-body CT scans performed on 178 modern Egyptians from Cairo undergoing positron emission tomography (PET)/CT for cancer staging to CT scans of 76 Egyptian mummies (3100 BCE to 364 CE). Patients undergoing cancer staging were selected for the study because these scans had already been completed for this group of patients as part of their cancer care.

It was really thoughtful of ancient Egyptians to mummify lots of bodies. They sent forward thru time some key pieces of evidence we can use to figure out why they had poor health. They might be expecting future time travelers to go back to their time carrying effective treatments for the disease evidence they sent to us. So if you are thinking about making a time travel trip to ancient Egypt better first go into the future and get some cures you can take back with you.

These ancients didn't smoke cigarettes (no tobacco), sit around as couch potatoes watching TV (no TV shows), or go to fast food restaurants (the hamburger hadn't even been invented yet and Hamburg called Hamburg yet either).

In this paper, by Dr. Gregory S Thomas, Medical Director of the MemorialCare, Heart & Vascular Institute of Long Beach Memorial, Long Beach, CA, USA, and Professor Jagat Narula, Editor-in-Chief of Global Heart and Associate Dean for Global Health at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. New York, USA, and colleagues, they suggest potential causes for this modern disease to occur in ancient times. None of these cultures suffered from significant obesity, lack of physical activity, cigarette smoking, or other well-known 'modern' risk factors that can cause narrowing of the arteries and thus raise the risk of heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular problems.

Could chronic inflammation from living in high disease environments be a cause?

However, the authors suggest that a non-traditional cause or causes of atherosclerosis could explain the burden of atherosclerosis in ancient peoples. Thomas comments, "These ancient people were unaware of the germs lurking in the unhygienic environments in which they lived, animals and people living side by side, inadequate sewage, contaminated water. They did not know that the germs amongst which they lived caused infection after infection. In addition to frequent bacterial and viral infections, the ancients likely suffered from lifelong parasitic infestations. Modern medicine, knowledge and antibiotics had not yet arrived."

But the disease load in industrialized humans is much lower. So why don't they have less heart disease? Other causes?

Chronic infection with chronic inflammation is thought to cause artery clogging.

A strong and prolonged inflammatory effort by the body would have been necessary to fight off the infections that plagued ancient humans. However, this intense inflammatory response may have accelerated the inflammation that occurs when cholesterol, an unwelcome guest, gets into the wall of the artery. Inflammation is an integral part of the atherosclerotic process. Cholesterol is not supposed to be in the wall, thus the body fights it. The process is counterproductive, however, attracting more unwelcome cells in the wall of the artery resulting in a further build up of an atherosclerotic plaque.

I teenage weaver boy who died in Thebes (Luxor Egypt) in 1200 BC had 4 parasites in his body.

As evidence, the authors cite a 1974 investigation into the mummy 'Nakht', a teenage boy who worked as a weaver circa 1200 BCE in Thebes (modern day Luxor, Egypt). The extensive investigation found that Nakht was infected with four parasites, suffering from schistosomiasis, trichinosis, malaria and tapeworm infestation. The authors comment: "If Nakht is representative of those living along the ancient Nile, these populations must have endured enormous, lifelong inflammatory burdens." Other mummies were found to be harbouring tuberculosis infections.

Want you lower your infectious disease burden? Floss your teeth. Lower the inflammatory bacteria load in your mouth.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2014 August 07 11:29 PM 

libfree said at August 8, 2014 6:18 AM:

cooking over open fires more often? or worse, cooking over open fires in an enclosed space. That could be just as bad as smoking.

aandrews said at August 9, 2014 7:12 AM:

"Floss your teeth."

And prior to doing so, rinse your mouth with 3% hydrogen peroxide.

Jens Aggergren said at August 15, 2014 6:50 PM:

didn't the ancient egyptians drink a lot (admittedly weak) beer? couldn't that present an risk factor for cardiovascular disease (and kidney stones)?

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