(NaturalNews) Living in the land of pharaohs, waited upon by servants and worshiping a polytheistic pantheon of gods -- the lives of wealthy ancient Egyptians seem to most of us exotic and far removed from modern civilization. However, recent research shows they shared a mundane health problem which afflicts large numbers of people today -- clogged arteries.
At a heart imaging conference in Amsterdam in May of 2011, one paper presented involved a confluence of history and modern diagnostic technology. Researchers ran 52 ancient Egyptian mummies through a CT (computerized tomography) scanner to read information about their cardiovascular systems. The study found that most of the mummies that still had heart tissue also had calcium deposits in their arteries.
The study leaders interpreted the presence of the calcium deposits as evidence that atherosclerosis is not related to lifestyle. Adel Allam, a cardiology professor at Al Azhar University in Cairo, served as co-leader of the study along with Gregory Thomas, director of nuclear cardiology education at the University of California in Irvine. Allam concluded that the high incidence of clogged arteries among ancient mummies means "We cannot blame this disease on modern civilization." Other members of the study group also favor this interpretation of the mummy research: "From what we can tell from this study, humans are predisposed to atherosclerosis," stated Randall Thompson of the St. Luke's Mid-America Heart Institute in Kansas City.
However, some health experts see another explanation for the study's findings. Joep Perk holds a position as professor of health sciences at Linnaeus University in Sweden and is spokesman for the European Society of Cardiology. Perk, who is not connected to the mummy study, bases his reading of the study on the basic historical fact that only affluent Egyptians merited mummification. He points out that ancient Egyptian elite shared significant lifestyle factors common among modern heart disease sufferers . "The pharaohs and other royalty probably had more fat in their diet than the average Egyptian," Perk notes. According to historical experts, wealthy ancient Egyptians ate little fish but consumed an abundance of meats including pork, mutton and beef. They also ate fruit and vegetables. Salt was already in use during this period as a food preservative.
Lack of exercise among the wealthy could also have played a role, says Perk. "The sculptures and hieroglyphs may show people who were very thin and beautiful, but the reality may have been different." As with present-day heart patients, stress and genetics may also have contributed making some people more susceptible to heart problems brought on by high-fat diets. Ultimately, for the princesses and pharaohs whose remains were studied as part of the project, dying of heart disease may have been a mark of good fortune. Poorer Egyptians, says Perk, probably died of infections which the wealthy were able to escape: "They simply had the good luck to live long enough to develop heart disease."