This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (copyright 2015--it will be out soon), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Death Secrets From Egyptian Mummies

Health historians have famously diagnosed the causes of death of famous people like Napoleon Bonaparte and, most recently, Charles Darwin, by searching through symptoms and relating those symptoms to likely pathologies leading to death. It is rare, of course, to be able actually to examine the body and do something resembling a post-mortem. Yet, that is what researchers have been able to do with Egyptian mummies.
An Egyptian princess who lived more than 3,500 years ago is the oldest known person to have had clogged arteries, dispelling the myth that heart disease is a product of modern society, a new study says.

To determine how common heart disease was in ancient Egypt, scientists performed computer scans on 52 mummies in Cairo and the United States. Among those that still had heart tissue, 44 had chunks of calcium stuck to their arteries — indicating clogging.
"Atherosclerosis clearly existed more than 3,000 years ago," said Adel Allam, a cardiology professor at Al Azhar University in Cairo, who led the study with Gregory Thomas, director of nuclear cardiology education at the University of California in Irvine. "We cannot blame this disease on modern civilization."
On the other hand, maybe heart disease among the ancients could be blamed on diet and exercise?
Joep Perk, a professor of health sciences at Linnaeus University in Sweden and a spokesman for the European Society of Cardiology, said the heart disease discovered in the mummies was probably due to the rich diet and lack of exercise among the Egyptian elite. He was not linked to the mummy research.
"The pharaohs and other royalty probably had more fat in their diet than the average Egyptian," he said. "The sculptures and hieroglyphs may show people who were very thin and beautiful, but the reality may have been different."

Humans today are unlikely to be physiologically any different from humans thousands of years ago. Until fairly recently, people did not really understand heart disease nor, even if they did, were there any treatments for it and, in all events, almost everyone died of something else before having lived long enough to be snuffed out by clogged arteries.

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