Physicians' Academy for Cardiovascular Education

Inuit mummies show calcified plaque despite marine diet

News - Jan. 6, 2020

Young Inuit mummies show signs of calcified plaques, suggesting the presence of atherosclerosis despite their marine-based diet and active lifestyle. CT images showed evidence of calcified atheroma in three of four studied young adult Inuit.

The HORUS Study Group had previously reported that atherosclerosis existed as far back as 4000 BCE, as arterial calcification was observed in 34 out of 137 mummified remains from three continents. These bodies represented populations with varying lifestyle and heritage, but did not include individuals on a primarily marine-based diet rich in ω-3 fatty acids. It has been hypothesized that high intake of ω-3 fatty acids from marine animals might protect native Greenlandic Inuit peoples from atherosclerosis.

The HORUS study group now performed a case series study of Inuit hunter-gatherer people living 500 years ago who consumed a marine-based diet. The remains were natural mummies; preserved primarily by the cold environment. They were discovered on the Greenlandic island of Uunartaq, Greenland, in 1929. Based on grave goods and clothing, it was estimated that they were buried around the 1500s, when these individuals would have hunted from kayaks with spears, bows and arrows, for their diet of fish, birds, marine mammals and caribou. The studied bodies were from 2 men who died at ages 18-22 and 25-30 and 2 women who died at ages 16-18 and 25-30 years. Remnants of the carotid arteries, the thoracic and retroperitoneal aorta and iliac arteries were preserved in all individuals.

Multidetector whole-body CT images revealed discrete high-density regions in an arterial distribution, which was interpreted as calcified atheroma. The presence of atherosclerosis despite their vigorous lifestyle and marine-based diet may be surprising. The authors propose that other factors that played a role in the etiology of atherosclerosis in these individuals, may include environmental smoke of indoor fires used by Inuit and other ancient people who also developed atherosclerosis.

Find the article by Wann et al. on JAMA Network Open

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