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Proof heart disease is an ancient problem: Autopsy finds 3,500-year-old Egyptian princess had clogged arteries

An Egyptian princess who lived more than 3,500 years ago is the oldest known person to have had clogged arteries, dispelling the myth that heart disease is a product of modern society, a new study says.
To determine how common heart disease was in ancient Egypt, scientists performed computer scans on 52 mummies in Cairo and the United States.
Among those that still had heart tissue, 44 had chunks of calcium stuck to their arteries - indicating clogging.
The mummy of Maiherpri, from 1550-1295 BC, is prepared for CT scanning in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Experts have discovered heart disease was the scourge of the ancient world
Gruesome: The mummy of Maiherpri, from 1550-1295 BC, is prepared for examination at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo - one of 52 mummies to be examined
'Atherosclerosis clearly existed more than 3,000 years ago,' said Adel Allam, a cardiology professor at Al Azhar University in Cairo, who led the study with Gregory Thomas, director of nuclear cardiology education at the University of California in Irvine. 'We cannot blame this disease on modern civilization.'


The research was presented on Tuesday at a conference on heart imaging in Amsterdam.
Allam and colleagues found the Egyptian princess Ahmose-Meryet-Amon, who lived in Thebes (now Luxor) between 1540 and 1550 B.C., had calcium deposits in two main coronary arteries, making her the oldest mummy found with heart disease.
Egyptologist Dr Ibrahem Badr prepares a mummy for scanning to discover more about their health
Egyptologist Dr Ibrahem Badr prepares a mummy for scanning. Of the 52 mummies which still had heart tissue 44 had chunks of calcium stuck to their arteries - indicating clogging
The princess' father and brother were both pharaohs. The mummy had pierced ears and a large incision in her left side made by embalmers to remove her internal organs.
Allam doubted she would have received much treatment beyond maybe taking special herbs or honey.
'If she were my patient today, she would get open heart surgery,' he said. He added the princess' clogged arteries looked remarkably similar to heart disease in contemporary Egyptians.
The 43 younger mummies with calcium deposits showed a range of heart and artery problems.
The sarcophagus containing the mummy Isis is prepared to be scanned. She is one of 52 mummies being examined so experts can see how widespread heart disease was
The sarcophagus containing the mummy Isis. Experts say that beef, pork, mutton, antelope, duck and other meats were readily available in the royal courts
Experts say that during the princess' lifetime, beef, pork, mutton, antelope, duck and other meats were readily available in the royal courts.
Egyptians didn't eat much fish but ate many different kinds of fruits and vegetables. Salt was also likely used to preserve their food.
Joep Perk, a professor of health sciences at Linnaeus University in Sweden and a spokesman for the European Society of Cardiology, said the heart disease discovered in the mummies was probably due to the rich diet and lack of exercise among the Egyptian elite. He was not linked to the mummy research.
Princess Ahmose-Meryet-Amon lived in Luxor, pictured, between 1540 and 1550 B.C. She had calcium deposits in two main coronary arteries, making her the oldest mummy found with heart disease
Princess Ahmose-Meryet-Amon lived in Luxor, pictured, between 1540 and 1550 B.C. She had calcium deposits in two main coronary arteries
'The pharaohs and other royalty probably had more fat in their diet than the average Egyptian,' he said. 'The sculptures and hieroglyphs may show people who were very thin and beautiful, but the reality may have been different.'
He added there may have been other factors, like the stress of holding onto power and genetic factors that could have made the Egyptian ruling class more susceptible to heart disease.
He said Egyptian royals were more likely to be killed by heart problems after surviving other infections that would have killed poorer Egyptians. 'They simply had the good luck to live long enough to develop heart disease.'

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