Heart disease, it seems, doesn't discriminate, striking not only both men and women. Now, scientists have learned not even Pharaohs were spared of hardened arteries.
And they developed heart disease despite the absence of super-size fries paired with a sugary soda and greasy burgers, one of today's popular heart disease scapegoats. No doubt music to Ronald McDonald's ears.
"We think of it as being caused by modern risk factors," such as fast food, smoking and a lack of exercise, but the findings show that these aren't the only reasons arteries clog, said Dr. Randall Thompson, a cardiologist at the Mid America Heart Institute in Kansas City who found signs of heart disease in 3,500 year-old mummies, told the Associated Press.
Thompson and several other researchers used CT scans (X-rays) on 22 mummies kept in the Egyptian National Museum of Antiquities in Cairo. The mummies were from 1981 B.C. to 334 A.D. and half the researchers believe were over 45 when they died. Given that the average lifespan back then was under 50, these "old timers" were considered senior citizens.
Sixteen mummies had heart and blood vessel tissue to analyze and Thompson study found nine had "definite or probable hardening of the arteries."
"We were struck by the similar appearance of vascular calcification in the mummies and our present-day patients," another researcher, Dr. Michael Miyamoto of the University of California at San Diego, told AP. "Perhaps the development of atherosclerosis is a part of being human."
The study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found one mummy even had evidence of a possible heart attack.
So, if Big Macs and Frosty's aren't too blame, what is? The researchers speculate social status is one likely contributor.
Of those whose identities could be determined (based on their burials) all were the equivalent of modern-day high society. Many served in the court of the Pharaoh or as priests or priestesses. And the oldest mummy with heart disease was was Lady Rai, a nursemaid to Queen Ahmose Nefertari who died around 1530 B.C. - 200 years before King Tutankhamun.
"Rich people ate meat, and they did salt meat, so maybe they had hypertension (high blood pressure), but that's speculation," Thompson said.
With modern diets, "we all sort of live in the Pharaoh's court," said another researcher, Dr. Samuel Wann of the Wisconsin Heart Hospital in Milwaukee.
Even without eating junk food mummies had heart disease, too