Using CT scans, researchers examined the remaining arteries of 137 mummies, and found signs of probable or definite atherosclerosis in 34 percent.
We're quick to blame modern diets -- and heavy drinking, and smoking, and lack of exercise -- for atherosclerosis, the hardening of the arteries that can cause heart attack and stroke. And there's no reason not to, because it's caused by a buildup of fat and cholesterol in the walls of our arteries. We're also quick to think of the condition, as with all heart disease, as a unique side-effect of our unique -- as compared to most of human history -- lifestyle.
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And yet ancient people of Egypt, Peru, southwest America, and Alaska commonly suffered from hardened arteries, too. Using CT scans, researchers examined the remaining arteries of 137 mummies, and found signs of probable or definite atherosclerosis in 34 percent of them.
These "pre-modern" humans probably weren't cheeseburger-happy desk workers. The authors analyzed their presumed diets and lifestyles, which varied widely for the four societies. The mummified Egyptians, they write, were likely to have been wealthy, and therefore probably consumed a lot of saturated fat. This is in fact not the first time that hardened arteries were identified in Egyptian mummies. And yet the Unangans, of the Aluetian Islands in Alaska, subsisted almost entirely on marine life. They, and the other mummies, were preserved naturally through climate factors, not because they had attained any special status that would have privileged them with extra-rich foods.