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The Mummies' Curse: Heart Disease
Date:11/17/2009

getting a grant to carry out the research, none of the scientific team members thought the mummies would have atherosclerosis.

Twenty-two mummies were selected for CT (computed tomography) imaging scans on a machine kept in a truck behind the museum but seldom used. Those chosen had withstood the ravages of time better than most.

"The state of preservation of some of the bodies was superb," said Dr. Randall C. Thompson, second author of the study, who's with the Mid-America Heart Institute in Kansas City, Mo. "There were parts of the cardiovascular system that were intact amazingly well, and on the CT scan we could tell these were arteries, heart, cardiovascular tissue -- even on mummies 3,000 or 3,500 years old. Atherosclerosis looked just like it does in modern patients."

Definite or probable atherosclerosis was found in nine of the 22 mummies, and was more common (present in seven of eight) in older mummies -- that is, mummies thought to have been 45 years or older when they died, the researchers said.

Fourteen of the mummies were members of the aristocracy or the royal household, including Lady Rai, nursemaid to Queen Nefertari, along with priests or priestesses and one soldier, the researchers said.

"We have every reason to believe the others were wealthy individuals as well because of the cost of mummification," Thompson said. "In upper-class older and middle-age Egyptians, atherosclerosis was not uncommon."

The disease process affected men and women.

Ancient Egyptians didn't smoke tobacco, eat processed foods or skimp on exercise as far as anyone knows, but they did farm and eat protein.

"They did eat animals. Drawings on the tomb showed they ate ducks and sheep and particularly salted fish," Wann explained. Hieroglyphics have also depicted what might be chest pain from a heart attack, the authors said.

The salt component of the diet may have resulted in high blood pre
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