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Ancient mummies inspire heart research at Sint-Lucas Hospital

By Vaseline May30,2024

Is it possible that mummified remains from thousands of years ago provide insight into human health and anatomy today? Some scientists at Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute in Kansas City strongly believe this is so, and support their claim with evidence.

Contrary to the belief that heart disease is a recent condition, new research shows that people in ancient times also suffered from this problem. The study, an extensive study of ancient human evidence of atherosclerosis, proves that humans have historically been susceptible to atherosclerosis, a condition in which plaque buildup blocks arteries and can cause heart attacks or strokes.

To find out how common this disease was in ancient people, the researchers looked at CT scans of 237 adult mummies (91 women, 139 men, and 7 gender unknown). They found signs that these individuals also suffered from this disease. Calcification of the arterial wall was evident in almost 38% (about 89) of the CT scans of the mummies indicating atherosclerosis.

Mummies with dramatically different backgrounds

An interesting aspect of the research is the diversity of the origins of the mummies. These were not limited to one specific time or location. Age, gender, geographic location, culture, race/ethnicity, and quality of preservation varied among each other. Traced back to seven different cultures over a period of more than 4,000 years, they include:

  • Ancient Egyptians
  • Ancient Peruvians from the lowlands
  • Highland Andean Bolivians from ancient times
  • Aleutian Islander hunter-gatherers living in the 19th century
  • Greenland Inuits from the 16th century
  • Ancestral Puebloans
  • Pastoralists from the medieval Gobi Desert

What was found and what it means

“In both men and women, we found in every period, even before 2500 B.C. “This confirms our previous finding that it is not just a recent condition caused by current lifestyle.”

The results were shocking because the average lifespan of the sample group was approximately 43 years, which is lower than the current norm. Nevertheless, the findings are consistent with early disease patterns seen in current CT scans.

According to Dr. Thompson, “modern cardiovascular risk factors such as smoking, physical inactivity and poor diet, with inherent risks associated with aging human bodies, increase how serious and influential atherosclerosis can be,” therefore it is becoming increasingly important to keep manageable risk factors in check.

Further context and future studies

The study concluded that atherosclerosis has and continues to be significantly present in human anatomy, influencing both current health science and past human history. The authentic presence of atherosclerotic calcifications in both Egyptian and non-Egyptian mummies in both sexes suggests that heart disease has been a persistently prominent part of human life and can sometimes even be fatal, going back thousands of years.

This study does have limitations that the researchers have identified. Differences in preservation between mummies or postmortem changes during mummification may influence the findings. Nevertheless, when examining the scans, they were careful to attribute only areas to atherosclerosis whose presence was certain.

Relevance to modern times

According to Dr. Thompson, the significance of the research for modern healthcare is clear. It highlights how crucial it is to manage manageable risk factors such as quitting smoking, following a healthy diet and ensuring blood pressure is under control. This study highlights that current cardiovascular diseases arise from significant historical prevalence and are not simply consequences of contemporary lifestyle.

Introducing Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute

The Western Region of the BJC Health System, approximately part of the Saint Luke’s Health System, is home to Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute. This organization is one of the largest non-profit healthcare providers in the US. The heart institute, prized for its cardiovascular services, is an educational affiliate of the University of Missouri, Kansas City School of Medicine and offers services including heart disease prevention, interventional cardiology, cardiovascular surgery, heart failure imaging and transplantation.

Home to one of the largest heart failure and heart transplant programs in the country, Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute staff includes more than 100 fully board-certified cardiovascular specialists. It is a global center for learning about the latest methods of coronary revascularization and is ranked 47th nationwide for Cardiology, Heart and Vascular Surgery by US News & World Report.

To block

The study provides interesting insights into historical patterns of heart disease, showing that it is not just a problem with current lifestyles, but a condition that has affected people for thousands of years. By studying ancient mummies, researchers at Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute show the importance of controlling current cardiovascular risk factors, resulting in reduced effects of atherosclerosis.

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