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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.


This article was originally published in Global Heart, volume 9, issue 2, in 2014.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.