Despite its significant prevalence, ASCVD remains relatively unknown1. Although commonly assumed to be a new affliction, this silent killer has been lurking around for millennia…
Evidence that our ancient ancestors suffered from ASCVD was revealed in 2009, when a team of researchers performed CT scans on 52 ancient Egyptian mummies. Of the 44 mummies with identifiable cardiovascular tissue, 20 showed probable or definite atherosclerosis, suggesting ASCVD was a widespread affliction even back then2.
And it wasn’t just wealthy pharaohs. The study was expanded to represent a more diverse set of lifestyles, diets and geographies. Among a further 137 mummies scanned from across four continents – spanning a 3’800-year time horizon – around one third showed probable or definite atherosclerosis3. This corresponds to today’s percentage of the world’s population with high cholesterol level, a major risk factor of atherosclerosis4.
When Leonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519) dissected a man’s heart in 1506, he observed that the arteries were “embedded in greasy material”5. Little did he know that this fatty build-up was atherosclerosis – the number one cause of death. Many of Leonardo’s conclusions from studying human anatomy, such as the description of how the arterial valves close and open – letting blood flow around the heart – hold true today5.
While ASCVD is often presumed to be a product of our modern diets and increasingly sedentary lifestyles, the presence of atherosclerosis in these disparate human populations raises the possibility of a more basic predisposition to the disease3.
To learn more about this invisible killer, download our infographic here.
- World Health Organization (WHO). Cardiovascular diseases – Data and statistics. https://www.euro.who.int/en/health-topics/noncommunicable-diseases/cardiovascular-diseases/data-and-statistics. [Last accessed May 2022].
- Allam AH, Thompson RC, Wann LS, et al. Atherosclerosis in ancient Egyptian mummies: the Horus study. JACC Cardiovasc Imaging. 2011;4(4):315-327. doi:10.1016/j.jcmg.2011.02.002
- Thompson RC, Allam AH, Lombardi GP, et al. Atherosclerosis across 4000 years of human history: the Horus study of four ancient populations. Lancet. 2013;381(9873):1211-1222. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(13)60598-X
- World Health Organization (WHO). Global Atlas on cardiovascular disease prevention and control. 2011. Available at: https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789241564373.
- Sliskovic, D.R. (2013). Cardiovascular Drugs. In Drug Discovery (eds J.J. Li and E.J. Corey). https://doi.org/10.1002/9781118354483.ch5