Near-infrared spectroscopy on ancient mummy reveals this common 21st century killer caused their death too

Mummified people (Representational picture) Reuters

Heart disease is the main reason behind most of the death cases worldwide for both men and women of all races. But it's unfair to put the entire blame on recent food habits such as consumption of soda, processed meats, white rice and pasta, since the ancestors who lived thousands of years ago also perished with sick hearts.

A study which began to find a proof whether heart disease is a modern-day problem or not including an analysis of ancient mummies which revealed thousands of year ago that humans had suffered from clogged arteries but it was previously unrecognized. These mummies, dated back to about 2,000 BC, came from several parts of Peru, Chile and Egypt.

As per the research team head Mohammad Madjid, their study has finally revealed that the heart disease is not a disease which is related to modern time alone.

Madjid, who is an assistant professor at the University of Texas' McGovern Medical School, explained, "Our ancestors might not have lived long enough to die of heart attack, but they definitely had the substrate of it in their arteries," Inverse reported.

The team of researchers conducted the study in three male and two women mummies. They evaluated these ancient mummies with near-infrared spectroscopy, which is a spectroscopic method that uses the near-infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum.

It was believed that three mummified individuals died due to pneumonia, while one died of kidney disease and another died because of an unknown disease.

The samples which were very difficult to find were provided by well-known paleopathologist late Arthur Aufderheide, the lead author of this study. The team is currently trying to collect more samples from several museums across the world to widespread the research scale.

In the study, the team clarified one specific thing while stating that "our samples were obtained from ordinary men and women, not from kings or pharaohs."

These mummified ancient people could be hunter-gatherers. They mentioned that these people had a proper non-vegetarian diet which includes fish and vegetables. The researchers noted that these people probably ate less fatty food than previously analysed wealthy ancient Egyptians, who showed the evidence of the heart disease atherosclerosis, as they ate lots of fatty meals and used plenty of salt.

The previous study on the wealthy mummies included an imaging technique called computed tomography, which can't detect the buildup of cholesterol in arteries. But in the recent study by Majid and the team near-infrared spectroscopy can do that because it differentiates between various tissue components.

New research revealed that the hearts showed evidence of cholesterol plaque, which is common in the case of atherosclerosis and can be made up of factors like fat, calcium, and cholesterol. It should be noted that it is a cardiovascular disease that involves plaque buildup in arteries. It should be mentioned that atherosclerosis can lead to heart attack, stroke or death.

As per the team of the researchers it is possible that those ancient people have developed atherosclerosis because of regular exposure to cooking fires or bacteria and parasitic infections.

After this study, which was published in American Heart Journal, Majid suggested that "we need to ramp up a healthy lifestyle and risk factor control to prevent heart attacks."