Research has revealed that an Egyptian princess is known to be first person in human history with diagnosed coronary artery disease.
Princess Ahmose-Meryet-Amon, who lived in Thebes (Luxor) between 1580 and 1550 BC, was on a diet rich in vegetables, fruit and a limited amount of meat from domesticated (but not fattened) animals.
Wheat and barley were grown along the banks of the Nile, making bread and beer the dietary staples of this period of ancient Egypt. Tobacco and trans-fats were unknown, and lifestyle was likely to have been active.
The coronary arteries of Princess Ahmose-Meryet-Amon - as visualised by whole body computerised tomography (CT) scanning - will feature in two presentations, based on findings from the Horus study, in which arterial atherosclerosis was investigated in 52 ancient Egyptian mummies.
Results have shown that recognisable arteries were present in 44 of the mummies, with an identifiable heart present in 16. Arterial calcification (as a marker of atherosclerosis) was evident at a variety of sites in almost half the mummies scanned, prompting the investigators to note that the condition was common in this group of middle aged or older ancient Egyptians; the 20 mummies with definite atherosclerosis were older (mean 45.years) than those with intact vascular tissue but no atherosclerosis (34.5 years).
Although relatively common at other vascular sites, atherosclerosis in the coronary arteries was evident in only three of the mummies investigated, but was clearly visualised in Princess Ahmose-Meryet-Amon (in whom calcification was present in every vascular bed visualised).
The CT scan image showed that the princess, who died in her 40s, had atherosclerosis in two of her three main coronary arteries.
"Today," said Dr Gregory S Thomas, director of Nuclear Cardiology Education at the University of California, Irvine, USA, and co-principal investigator of the Horus study, "she would have needed by-pass surgery."
"Overall, it was striking how much atherosclerosis we found," said Thomas.
"We think of atherosclerosis as a disease of modern lifestyle, but it's clear that it also existed 3500 years ago. Our findings certainly call into question the perception of atherosclerosis as a modern disease," added Thomas.
The coronary arteries of the princess featured in two presentations at the International Conference of Non-Invasive Cardiovascular Imaging (ICNC) this week in Amsterdam.