Atherosclerosis is an old disease: Summary of the Ruffer Centenary Symposium, The Paleocardiology of Ancient Egypt, a meeting report of the Horus Study team
ABSTRACT A symposium in January 2011 "The Paleocardiology of Ancient Egypt" reviewed old and new evidence for the presence of advanced atherosclerotic lesions in ancient Egyptian mummies. This symposium was dedicated as a Centenary for the pioneering report of Marc Ruffer in 1911 (Ruffer, 1911). Based on CT scans, the Horus Study team concluded that atherosclerosis was present in the ancient Egyptian elites and is not a disease new to the 20th Century. Presentations included radiological data on vasculature, skeleton, and teeth, indicating degenerative diseases and poor health before age 50 in these specimens. Comparisons were made with the Bolivian Tsimane, a 20th Century population living without access to modern medicine with short life expectancy. Further research is needed to develop an epidemiological context for estimating population level prevalence of vascular disease and its risk factors in ancient Egyptian societies.
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ABSTRACT: Case reports from Johan Czermak, Marc Ruffer, and others a century or more ago demonstrated ancient Egyptians had atherosclerosis three millennia ago. The Horus study team extended their findings, demonstrating that atherosclerosis was prevalent among 76 ancient Egyptian mummies and among 61 mummies from each of the ancient cultures of Peru, the American Southwest, and the Aleutian Islands. These findings challenge the assumption that atherosclerosis is a modern disease caused by present day risk factors. An extensive autopsy of an ancient Egyptian teenage male weaver named Nakht found that he was infected with four parasites: Schistosoma haematobium, Taenia species, Trichinella spiralis, and Plasmodium falciparum. Modern day patients with chronic inflammatory disease such as rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, and human immunodeficiency virus experience premature atherosclerosis. Could the burden of chronic inflammatory disease have been a risk factor for atherosclerosis in these ancient cultures? The prevalence of atherosclerosis in four diverse ancient cultures is consistent with atherosclerosis being fundamental to aging. The impact of risk factors in modern times, and potentially in ancient times, suggests a strong gene-environmental interplay: human genes provide a vulnerability to atherosclerosis, the environment determines when and if atherosclerosis becomes manifest clinically.Journal of Cardiology 05/2014; DOI:10.1016/j.jjcc.2013.12.012 · 2.57 Impact Factor
Forensic Science Medicine and Pathology 02/2014; 10(3). DOI:10.1007/s12024-014-9544-9 · 1.96 Impact Factor
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ABSTRACT: Computed tomographic findings of atherosclerosis in the ancient cultures of Egypt, Peru, the American Southwest and the Aleutian Islands challenge our understanding of the fundamental causes of atherosclerosis. Could these findings be true? Is so, what traditional risk factors might be present in these cultures that could explain this apparent paradox? The recent computed tomographic findings are consistent with multiple autopsy studies dating as far back as 1852 that demonstrate calcific atherosclerosis in ancient Egyptians and Peruvians. A nontraditional cause of atherosclerosis that could explain this burden of atherosclerosis is the microbial and parasitic inflammatory burden likely to be present in ancient cultures inherently lacking modern hygiene and antimicrobials. Patients with chronic systemic inflammatory diseases of today, including systemic lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis, and human immunodeficiency virus infection, experience premature atherosclerosis and coronary events. Might the chronic inflammatory load of ancient times secondary to infection have resulted in atherosclerosis? Smoke inhalation from the use of open fires for daily cooking and illumination represents another potential cause. Undiscovered risk factors could also have been present, potential causes that technologically cannot currently be measured in our serum or other tissue. A synthesis of these findings suggests that a gene-environmental interplay is causal for atherosclerosis. That is, humans have an inherent genetic susceptibility to atherosclerosis, whereas the speed and severity of its development are secondary to known and potentially unknown environmental factors.