Archaeologists find evidence heart disease was alive and well in the 1500s

Archeologists have uncovered evidence of atherosclerosis in a handful of 500-year-old mummies from Greenland, Forbes reported.

As part of a research effort to determine the rate of heart disease in global populations before the introduction of high-fat, high-calorie foods, experts from Harvard’s Peabody Museum and Brigham and Women’s Hospital CT-scanned five 16th-century-era mummies. The mummies represented four young adults and one child from a local Inuit community.

In spite of a fish-heavy diet—which cardiologists today consider cardioprotective—the mummies showed signs of hardened calcium deposits in blood vessels in their chests, signaling atherosclerosis. Doctors on the team hypothesized the condition could have developed from excessive smoke inhalation from household hearths, something that’s also been proposed in Egyptian mummies.

“We don’t know as much about the risk factors for atherosclerosis as we used to think we did,” Randall Thompson, a cardiologist involved with ancient mummy studies, said. “There may be other risk factors that have a bigger role than we appreciate.”

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