SUNDAY, March 10 (HealthDay News) -- Unwrapping the mysteries of the leading killer of modern-day humans, researchers have found evidence of heart disease in ancient mummies from around the globe.
The study also questions assumptions about what causes the illness, since it seems to have plagued civilizations with lifestyles that were very different than those of today.
"Heart disease is a serial killer that's been stalking mankind for 4,000 years," lead investigator Dr. Randall Thompson said at a press briefing Sunday at the American College of Cardiology annual meeting, in San Francisco.
"What we found is that heart disease is present, and not hard to find, in all of these cultures," said Thompson, who is a professor of medicine at the University of Missouri and a cardiologist at the Mid-America Heart Institute in Kansas City. The study was also published online simultaneously in The Lancet.
To investigate the ancient history of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), Thompson said he and his colleagues "gathered some forensic evidence from a 21st century instrument, a CT scanner, looking for residue in the form of calcium in arteries."
"We looked up some cold cases, some very cold cases," he said.
In total, the researchers scanned the arteries of 137 mummies -- 76 from Egypt, 51 from Peru, five from the ancestral Puebloan cultures of the American Southwest (formerly known as the Anasazi), and five from the hunter-gatherer culture of the Alaskan Aleutian islands.
The time period encompassed was enormous, from about 2,000 B.C. for the oldest Egyptian mummies to the late 1800s A.D. for the Aleutian individuals.
"Roughly 34 percent of our mummies had atherosclerosis, either probable or definite, including more than 80 percent of the Egyptians, 25 percent of the Peruvians, two of the five ancestral Puebloans, and three of the five Aleu
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