60-Second Science

Pharaohs Had Heart Disease

A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association finds that multiple ancient Egyptian mummies show signs of atherosclerosis. Karen Hopkin reports

You've probably heard the expression “a heart attack on a plate.” Maybe it’s fettuccini alfredo. Or maybe it’s a bacon cheeseburger, covered in batter and deep fried to artery-clogging perfection. Either way, it's clear that our modern diet is not always the most cardio-friendly. But that doesn’t mean that heart disease is a recent invention. Because a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association reveals that some Egyptian mummies show signs of atherosclerosis, hardening of the arteries.

Previous examination of a pharaoh’s mummy in the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Cairo showed that he’d suffered from atherosclerosis. Intrigued by this observation, scientists from the University of California, Irvine, got to wondering whether damaged arteries were common among ancient Egyptians. So they collected 20 mummies from the museum basement and from various displays, and subjected them to whole-body CT scans to look at their insides. Sixteen mummies still had identifiable hearts or arteries. And nine of them showed hardening of those arteries.

Although no one knows what those mummies were eating, it's safe to say they never encountered a corn dog. Too many of those things will lead you to an early tomb.

—Karen Hopkin 

[The above text is an exact transcript of the audio in the podcast.]

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