Health & wellbeing
Mummies know best: the pharaohs giving up their secrets about heart disease
A study of the arteries of ancient Egyptians has challenged the received wisdom that the illness is simply down to unhealthy modern lifestyles
Monday 31 August 2015 03.00 EDT
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In 2008, Greg Thomas, a cardiologist from California, was in Cairo for work. While there, he visited the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities with another cardiologist, Adel Allam of Al Azhar University in Cairo. They came across the mummy of King Merneptah, a pharaoh who lived 3,200 years ago. The description on Merneptah’s case said he had suffered from atherosclerosis, the buildup of plaque on artery walls. Both men were sure this must be wrong. How could an ancient Egyptian have had heart disease, when most of the risk factors for the disease – obesity, unhealthy diet, smoking and lack of exercise – did not then exist? But could they prove it?
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As they continue to expand their work, the Horus researchers emphasise that many key questions remain unanswered – including the origin of the mummies’ atherosclerosis. Thomas and Finch suspect that pre-modern heart disease was caused not simply by genes or ageing, but by another risk factor, one that modern societies no longer face: widespread chronic infection. From tests on tissue samples, they know that many mummies typically had one or more chronic infections, including malaria, tuberculosis, worms or other microbes. One teenage Egyptian mummy had four serious parasites – a level of disease that would be astonishing today.
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Wow, this will completely turn the “science” on its head.
You really “don’t know what you don’t know”.
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