Like nearly millions suffering from atherosclerosis, ancient hunter-gatherers also suffered from clogged arteries, revealing that the plaque buildup causing blood clots, heart attacks and strokes is not just a result of fatty diets or couch potato habits, according to new research published on 10 March in the journal The Lancet.
The researchers performed CT scans of 137 mummies from across four continents and found artery plaque in every single population studied, from preagricultual hunter-gatherers in the Aleutian Islands to the ancient Puebloans of southwestern United States.
Their findings provide an important twist to our understanding of atherosclerotic vascular disease, which is the leading cause of death in the developed world - while modern lifestyles can accelerate the development of plaque on our arteries, the prevalence of the disease across human history shows it may have a more basic connection to inflammation and ageing.
''This is not a disease only of modern circumstance but a basic feature of human ageing in all populations,'' says University of Southern Californa's professor Caleb Finch, a senior author of the study and the ARCO/Kieschnick professor of Gerontology at the USC Davis School of Gerontology, who also holds an appointment at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. ''Turns out even a Bronze Age guy from 5,000 years ago had calcified, carotid arteries,'' Finch said, referring to Ítzi the Iceman, a natural mummy who lived around 3200 B.C. and was discovered frozen in a glacier in the Italian Alps in 1991.
With Gregory Thomas of Long Beach Memorial, Finch was part of a team that previously showed Egyptian mummies had calcified patches on their arteries indicative of advanced atherosclerosis (from the Greek ''athero,'' meaning ''gruel,'' and ''scler,'' meaning ''hard'').
But ancient Egyptians tended to mummify only royalty or those who had privileged lives. The new study led by Thomas and Randall Thompson of Saint Luke's Mid America Heart Institute examined mummies from four drastically different climates and diets - and from cultures that mummified regular people, including ancient Peruvians, Ancestral Puebloans, the Unangans of the Aleutian Islands and ancient Egyptians.