March 11, 2013 - 17:50 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - Fatty arteries may not just be a curse of modern unhealthy lifestyles, say researchers who used scans to look at the heart health of mummies.
According to BBC News, a study in The Lancet of 137 mummies up to 4,000 years old found a third had signs of atherosclerosis.
Most people associate the disease, which leads to heart attacks and strokes, with modern lifestyle factors such as smoking and obesity.
But the findings may suggest a more basic human pre-disposition.
Previous studies have uncovered atherosclerosis in a significant number of Egyptian mummies but it had been speculated that they would have come from a higher social class and may have had luxurious diets high in saturated fat.
To try and get a better picture of how prevalent the disease was in ancient populations, the researchers used CT scans to look at mummies from Egypt, Peru, southwest America, and the Aleutian Islands in Alaska.
They found that 47 or 34% showed signs of definite or probably atherosclerosis.
Where the mummies' arterial structure had survived, the researchers were able to attribute a definite case of atherosclerosis by looking for the tell-tale signs of vascular calcification.
In some cases, the arterial structure had not survived but the calcified deposits were still present in sites where arteries would have once been.
As with modern populations, they found that older people seemed to be more likely to show signs of the disease.
The researchers said the results were striking because they had been able to look at the disease in people living in disparate global regions, with different lifestyles and at different times.
Study leader Professor Randall Thompson, of Saint Luke's Mid America Heart Institute in Kansas City, said: "The fact that we found similar levels of atherosclerosis in all of the different cultures we studied, all of whom had very different lifestyles and diets, suggests that atherosclerosis may have been far more common in the ancient world than previously thought. Furthermore, the mummies we studied from outside Egypt were produced naturally as a result of local climate conditions, meaning that it's reasonable to assume that these mummies represent a reasonable cross-section of the population, rather than the specially selected elite group of people who were selected for mummification in ancient Egypt."