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Why Did Ancient People Have Atherosclerosis? From Autopsies to Computed Tomography to Potential Causes


Gregory S. Thomas ,

MemorialCare Heart & Vascular Institute, Long Beach Memorial, Long Beach, CA; University of California, Irvine, Irvine, CA, US
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L. Samuel Wann,

Cardiovascular Physicians, Columbia St. Mary's Healthcare, Milwaukee, WI, US
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Adel H. Allam,

Al-Azhar University, Cairo, EG
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Randall C. Thompson,

Saint Luke's Mid America Heart Institute, University of Missouri-Kansas City, Kansas City, MO, US
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David E. Michalik,

Miller Children's Hospital of Long Beach, Long Beach, CA, US
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M. Linda Sutherland,

Newport Diagnostic Center, Newport Beach, CA, US
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James D. Sutherland,

Saddleback Memorial Medical Center, Laguna Hills, CA, US
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Guido P. Lombardi,

Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia, Lima, PE
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Lucia Watson,

Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Mexico City, MX
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Samantha L. Cox,

Department of Archeology, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, GB; Penn Museum, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, US
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Clide M. Valladolid,

Museo de Sitio Puruchuco—Arturo Jimenez Borja, Lima, PE
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Gomaa Abd el-Maksoud,

Faculty of Archaeology, Cairo University, Giza, EG
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Muhammad Al-Tohamy Soliman,

Biological Anthropology Department, Medical Research Division, National Research Centre, Cairo, EG
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Ibrahem Badr,

High Institute for Tourism and Hotel and Conservation of Archeology, Alexandria, EG
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Abd el-Halim Nur el-din,

University for Science and Technology, 6th of October City, EG
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Emily M. Clarke,

University of California—Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA, US
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Ian G. Thomas,

Middlebury College, Middlebury, VT, US
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Michael I. Miyamoto,

Mission Heritage Medical Group, St. Joseph Heritage Health, Mission Viejo, CA, US
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Hillard S. Kaplan,

Department of Anthropology, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM, US
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Bruno Frohlich,

National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, US
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Jagat Narula,

Zena and Michael A. Wiener Cardiovascular Institute, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, NY, US
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Alexandre F.R. Stewart,

John and Jennifer Ruddy Canadian Cardiovascular Genetics Centre, University of Ottawa Heart Institute, Ottawa, Ontario, CA
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Albert Zink,

Institute for Mummies and the Iceman, European Academy of Bolzano/Bozen (EURAC), Bolzano/Bozen, IT
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Caleb E. Finch

Davis School of Gerontology, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA, US
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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.

How to Cite: Thomas GS, Wann LS, Allam AH, Thompson RC, Michalik DE, Sutherland ML, et al.. Why Did Ancient People Have Atherosclerosis? From Autopsies to Computed Tomography to Potential Causes. Global Heart. 2014;9(2):229–37. DOI:
Published on 01 Jun 2014.
Peer Reviewed


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