Have humans always developed “hardening of the arteries?”

Or…What do “hardening of the arteries,” sociopolitical change and research into atherosclerosis in ancient mummies have in common?

ancient mummies with atherosclerosis "hardening of arteries"The Horus study involves an international group of researchers performing whole-body CT scans on ancient Egyptian mummies and looking for evidence of arterial calcification consistent with atherosclerotic vascular disease, a form of cardiovascular disease leading to blockage of blood flow of various parts of the body including the feet and legs.

The word “Horus” refers to the deathless and timeless Egyptian god who symbolizes power and wisdom.

Results of the Horus study were first published in 2011. It showed that almost half of a group of ancient Egyptian mummies had identifiable calcification in their blood vessels consistent with atherosclerosis, or “hardening of the artries.” The study was expanded to include ancient mummies from other cultures – whole body CT scans of 137 mummies from four populations spanning a 3,800 year time frame from multiple locations in ancient Egypt, Peru and North America.

New data from this expanded Horus study, presented in March 2013 indicated that atherosclerosis existed even beyond the borders of Egypt. This study apparently showed that one-third of all mummies examined from the four different geographical populations, including a group of hunter-gatherers, had probable or definite atherosclerosis.

Over the past couple years, the continuation and expansion of the Horus research in Egypt has been blocked due to the sociopolitical turmoil in the wake of the Egyptian revolution. Researchers have been essentially locked out of the country since January 2011 because of the political instability. They simply cannot obtain permission to continue imaging mummies as this is not a high priority for the current government whose leaders are also hesitant to make decisions.

Evidently the best mummies come from Egypt in that they are the most well-preserved, but given the difficulty in getting access to Egyptian mummies, the research team is now looking further to other parts of the world.

The Horus findings suggest that humans may be genetically prone to atherosclerosis cardiovascular disease and this disease process cannot be explained simply as a consequence of modern sedentary lifestyles and poor eating habits. The researchers believe there might be risk factors for cardiovascular disease that have not yet been identified. They believe we need to look beyond modern risk factors to fully understand atherosclerosis and plan on imaging even more mummies from cultures across the globe in hopes of gaining insight into what those factors might be.

Most look to contemporary fast food, lack of exercise, smoking and other modern lifestyle factors as an explanation for cardiovascular disease, but is there more to it, or have humans simply traded ancient systemic inflammation producing ” lifestyle risk factors” such as parasitic and other infections, cooking-smoke inhalation, eating burnt food, etc. with analogous inflammation-producing contemporary risk factors?

Should the researchers also take into consideration the fact that these mummies are not a representative sample of the population as a whole? Royalty certainly did not live like the rest. I do not see this in the “Study Limitations” section (see study link above).

There are numerous other considerations when interpreting Horus. What do you think they are?

And doesn’t it stink when the advancement of science runs into a political wall? I’m sure the researchers treated the mummies with utmost deserving respect – I do not believe that is the issue. What do you think about this?

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About Robert Creighton

Dr. Creighton is a podiatrist and foot surgeon with over 26 years in podiatric practice treating thousands of patients afflicted with the physiological, physical, and psychological side effects and complications of diabetes and pre-diabetes metabolic syndrome. He believes these disorders present a pressing public health concern that need to be more actively addressed in a multidisciplinary way. Dr. Creighton graduated from what is now the Temple University School of Podiatric Medicine after receiving his undergraduate degree in Biology. He is certified by the American Board of Foot and Ankle Surgery, a member of the American Public Health Association, an American College of Sports Medicine certified personal trainer and a Member of the American Nutrition Association.

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