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3,500 year old mummy diagnosed with coronary disease

By Kieran Ball - 18 May 2011 16:11:1 GMT
3,500 year old mummy diagnosed with coronary disease

At the International Conference of Non-Invasive Cardiovascular Imaging (ICNC) in Amsterdam this week, one of the biggest talking points was an Egyptian princess known as Ahmosa-Meryet-Amon, a lady who lived in Thebes (Luxor) between 1580 and 1550 BC - and now officially the first person in history to be diagnosed with coronary disease.

The findings have come about as a result of the Horus study, a research programme that used whole body tomography (CT) scanning to view plaque build up (atherosclerosis) in the arteries of 52 ancient mummies. The most surprising discovery was that, despite a healthy lifestyle consisting of moderate exercise and a diet of fruit and vegetables with little meat, there was a very high level of coronary disease in the examined group. Three of the mummies examined had clear symptoms of coronary disease.

Dr Gregory S Thomas, one of the investigators and a director of Nuclear Cardiology Education at the University of California said: 'Overall, it was striking how much atherosclerosis we found. We think of atherosclerosis as a disease of modern lifestyle, but it's clear that it existed 3,500 years ago.'

Arterial calcification, one of the main symptoms of atherosclerosis, was found in half of the mummies scanned. In the case of Princess Ahmosa-Meryet-Amon, it was present in the form of advanced coronary disease, despite the subject being in her early 40s.

'Today, she would have needed bypass surgery,' says Dr Thomas.

The question is, how did someone who enjoyed a much more healthy lifestyle than people of today come about to have such advanced coronary disease. Certainly, back then, tobacco, trans-fats and evenings spent in front of the TV would have been unheard of.

To answer this, the team have put forward three suppositions: firstly, as a royal, her diet may have been richer than the ordinary Egyptian with more butter, cheese and meat. Many foods would have been preserved in salt at the time, which could have contributed to the condition. Secondly, it could have been the result of a genetic predisposition. And finally, it could have been due to a parasitic infection, prevalent at that time in Egypt, that led to an inflammatory response increasing the risk of heart disease.

Of course, the research group can't rule out unknown factors at play during that period in Egypt that could have led to a higher incidence of atherosclerosis, but, clearly, coronary disease can no longer be viewed as a modern illness.