Egyptian mummies showed many priests had blocked arteries
Lavish banquets offered to ancient Egyptian gods blocked the arteries of priests who took the food home to their families, say UK researchers.
An analysis of the foods listed in hieroglyphic inscriptions on temple walls showed the meals offered to the gods were laden with saturated fat.
And scans of priests' mummified remains showed many had blocked arteries.
The research, published in The Lancet, shows atherosclerosis is not just a modern disease, say the authors.
Professor Rosalie David, an egyptologist from the University of Manchester, said: "There couldn't be a more evocative message: live like a god and you will pay with your health."
The translations of inscriptions on the walls of Egyptian temples showed that priests would offer the gods meals of beef, goose, bread, fruit, vegetables, cake, wine and beer three times a day.
After the ritual offering, they would take home the food for themselves and their families.
A dietary analysis showed a very high fat content in the food offered. For example, goose meat is 63% fat, with 20% of it saturated.
The bread was richer than modern bread, often being enriched with fat, milk, and eggs.
The researchers say salt intake was also likely to have been high because it was often used as a preservative.
The food offered to the gods was much richer than the more frugal, mainly vegetarian, diet that most Egyptians ate.
The authors surveyed evidence from over 60 mummies which had been analysed over the past 30 years using X-rays or rehydrated tissue samples.
They found clear evidence of blocked arteries and arterial damage among priests and their families.
Among 16 mummies whose hearts and arteries could be identified by CT scans, nine had evidence of hardened arteries.
"There was a marked incidence of blocked arteries among priests and their families," said Professor David.
"We have been able to show how temple inscriptions, which recorded daily rituals, can be combined with investigation of mummies to provide additional evidence about the priests and their diet.
"Inscriptions on coffins associated with individual mummies provide the owner's names and titles and this information can be used to associate the diseases discovered in these mummies with specific social groups, in this case the priests and their families."
Co-author Professor Tony Heagerty, from the Cardiovascular Research Group at Manchester University, added: "There is unequivocal evidence to show that atherosclerosis is a disease of ancient times, induced by diet, and that the epidemic of atherosclerosis which began in the 20th Century is nothing more than history revisiting us."