Mummies, Athersclerosis, and Cinnamon

Q In your November issue, you wrote that the mummy of Queen Hatshepshut may have been preserved by cinnamon, which was used for that purpose in ancient Egypt owing to its antioxidant properties. The recent discovery that mummies dating back 3,500 years have been shown to have atherosclerosis raises an interesting question. Did the Egyptians use cinnamon for cardiovascular disease?

GLENDA, Nice, France

A Ancient Egyptians had little understanding of the role of the heart—unlike other organs, it was left in the body during mummification—and no understanding of the circulation of the blood, although it was known that the heart “spoke” through the peripheral vessels.1 This can be interpreted as feeling the pulse. However, in the famous Ebers papyrus (circa 1,500 BC) there appear a series of glosses (brief summaries of a term’s meaning) intended to describe pathological states of the heart, but the original material to which they refer has been lost. The cardiac glosses cover such subjects as the failing heart, congestive heart, and enlargement of the heart.

Aside from its use for mummification and fragrances, there is no record from pharaonic Egypt that cinnamon was taken internally for any medicinal reason.2 However, there are prescriptions for Egyptian unguents that indicate that its characteristic scent and antiseptic qualities were appreciated.

References

  1. Nunn JF. Ancient Egyptian Medicine. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1996.
  2. Manniche L. An ancient Egyptian herbal. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1989.

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