Mummy study finds ancient heart attacks and strokes

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A MACABRE study of mummified corpses shows that heart attacks and strokes may have plagued the ancient world as well as the modern one.

Scientists studied 137 mummies from Egypt and other locations around the world dating back 4,000 years. More than a third showed signs of likely or definite hardening and narrowing of the arteries.

The condition, known as “atherosclerosis”, is the primary cause of heart attacks and strokes caused by lack of blood to the brain. Until now, it had been widely assumed that today’s high rates of heart and artery disease were chiefly the result of unhealthy modern lifestyles.

Diets rich in saturated fat encourage the deposit of fatty layers on artery walls which harden over time. As a result, blood vessels become narrower and the flow of blood is impeded. When insufficient blood reaches the heart muscle or brain it can trigger a heart attack or stroke.

The latest findings, published in The Lancet medical journal, suggests that other factors besides diet and lifestyle play a leading role in atherosclerosis.

A similar previous study restricted to Egyptian mummies also found signs of widespread atherosclerosis. But experts speculated that this was because only high-ranking individuals, who would have eaten a rich diet, underwent mummification 
in ancient Egypt.