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As the woman lay in the CAT scanner, the technician almost said, "Please Hold Your Breath," but then realized he didnít have to. The patient was a mummy who died 3500 years ago and is one of 22 from the museum of Egyptian Antiquities who underwent CAT scans.
The purpose? To assess them for cardiovascular disease.
Thatís because a team of U.S. and Egyptian cardiologists wanted to know just how widespead heart disease was in ancient times. The results show more than half the mummies had calcifications in their artery walls.
They also had vascular disease, the very same type of cardiovascular disease people today suffer.
One of the mummies is Lady Raj - nursemaid to Queen Nefertiti. Lady Raj lived to be about 30 to 40 years old and died around 1530 B.C. That was 300 years before the time of Moses and two hundred years before King Tutankhamen.
Her CAT scan revealed calcified atherosclerotic plaques in her aorta even then. In fact, her case was the worst. All this is surprising, since we consider heart disease a modern day affliction.
So what risk factors did these ancient Egyptians face? In general, Egyptians who were mummified were more privileged and lived a lifestyle with a higher risk for heart disease.
They ate beef, duck and other poultry. And, since refrigeration was unavailable, they used salt to preserve meat. At the time, tobacco wasnít available and with little mechanical transportation, they were probably physically active.
That tells us they didnít have all the modern day risk factors like smoking, sedentary lifestyles and diets rich in saturated fats, salt and processed sugars.
Yet they did have heart disease, which suggests we may have a genetic predisposition to develop atherosclerosis.
Very provocative and maybe useful in developing new therapeutics, as more of us face heart disease.
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