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PUBLIC RELEASE DATE:
30-Jul-2014

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Contact: Dr. Randall Thompson
rthompson@saint-lukes.org
816-502-8532
World Heart Federation

CT scans provide evidence of atherosclerosis in wide range of ancient populations

Although atherosclerosis is widely thought to be a disease of modern times, computed tomographic (CT) evidence of atherosclerosis has been found in the bodies of a large number of mummies. In a paper published in Global Heart (the journal of the World Heart Federation) the authors review the findings of atherosclerotic calcifications in the remains of ancient people—humans who lived across a very wide span of human history and over most of the inhabited globe. The paper is by Dr Randall Thompson, Saint Luke's Mid-America Heart Institute, University of Missouri-Kansas City, MO, USA, and Professor Jagat Narula, Editor-in-Chief of Global Heart and Associate Dean for Global Health at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, USA, and colleagues.

The paper discusses a range of ancient peoples, including mummies from ancient Egypt, ancient Peru, and from the Aleutian Islands, continental North America, east Asia, and Europe, including the much studied 'Iceman'. The authors state: "These people had a wide range of diets and lifestyles and traditional modern risk factors do not thoroughly explain the presence and easy detectability of this disease. Non-traditional risk factors such as the inhalation of cooking fire smoke and chronic infection or inflammation might have been important factors contributing to atherosclerosis in ancient times. Study of the genetic and environmental risk factors for atherosclerosis in ancient people may offer insights into this common modern disease."

The authors note that: "Many people are surprised when they learn that ancient people had atherosclerosis. There is such a large (and appropriate) public health effort to educate citizens about healthy cardiovascular lifestyle choices that many seem to conclude that the condition must be completely avoidable and completely caused by our unhealthy modern diet and factors such as cigarette smoking, trans-fats, and inactivity."

They explain that, although atherosclerosis is widely thought to be a disease caused by modern lifestyles, CT evidence of atherosclerosis has been found in the bodies of a substantial number of mummies from various locations. Atherosclerotic calcifications, which appear virtually identical to CT findings in modern patients, have been detected in all major arteries in ancient mummies.

The authors conclude: "These people had a wide range of diets and lifestyles, and traditional modern risk factors do not thoroughly explain the presence and easy detection of this disease. We have hypothesised that non-traditional risk factors such as the inhalation of cooking fire smoke and chronic infection or inflammation might have been important factors contributing to atherosclerosis in ancient times. Further study of the genetic and environmental risk factors for atherosclerosis in ancient people may offer insights into this common modern disease."

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