Otzi The Iceman Had Heart Disease Genes, New Study Of Mummy Shows

Ötzi the Iceman, a well-preserved mummy discovered in the Alps, may have had a genetic predisposition to heart disease, new research suggests.

The new finding may explain why the man — who lived 5,300 years ago, stayed active and certainly didn't smoke or wolf down processed food in front of the TV — nevertheless had hardened arteries when he was felled by an arrow and bled to death on an alpine glacier.

"We were very surprised that he had a very strong disposition for cardiovascular disease," said study co-author Albert Zink, a paleopathologist at the Institute for Mummies and the Iceman at the European Academy of Bozen/Bolzano in Italy. "We didn't expect that people who lived so long ago already had the genetic setup for getting such kinds of diseases."

Otzi was discovered in 1991, when two hikers stumbled upon the well-preserved mummy in the Ötztal Alps, near the border between Austria and Italy. Since then, every detail of the iceman has been scrutinized, from his last meal and moments (Ötzi was bashed on the head before being pierced by the deadly arrow blow), to where he grew up, to his fashion sense. [Top 9 Secrets About Ötzi the Iceman]

Past research has revealed that Ötzi likely suffered from joint pain, Lyme disease and tooth decay, and computed tomography (CT) scanning revealed calcium buildups, a sign of atherosclerosis, in his arteries.

Initially, the atherosclerosis was a bit of a surprise, because much research has linked heart disease to the couch-potato lifestyle and calorie-rich foods of the modern world, Zink said. But in recent research, as scientists conducted CT scans on mummies from the Aleutian Islands to ancient Egypt, they realized that heart disease and atherosclerosis were prevalent throughout antiquity, in people who had dramatically different diets and lifestyles, he said.

"It really looks like the disease was already frequent in ancient times, so it's not a pure civilizational disease," Zink told Live Science.



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