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Mummies Show Signs of Heart Disease

Despite not having sugared soft drinks or fast food, the ancients didn't lead healthier lives than we do. Researchers who examined 137 mummies from four different cultures, spanning 4,000 years, under CT scanners, and found evidence of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) in almost half of them.

In the March 11th edition of the Wall Street Journal, Ron Winslow quotes cardiologist Randall Thompson as saying, "The older ones at the time of death had a lot more calcification than the younger ones, and there was a trend toward worse disease in women." This is the opposite of heart disease today, where women generally develop cardiovascular disease a decade or so later than men.

This may be because people often lived in poorly ventilated underground shelters where women cooked with wood and oil. According to Thompson, smoke from cooking "may have been an occupational hazard before the modern kitchen."

The mummies they examined came from the Aleutian Islands and Peru, but the same researchers reported similar findings in 2009 from Egyptian mummies. Because those mummies were from the upper echelons of society, the researchers assumed their calcified arteries developed from high-fat diets. But by expanding the research to other cultures, they now believe that all levels of society were at risk, regardless of diet.

Winslow quotes researcher Gregory Thomas as saying, "Regardless of diet and culture, we're all at risk for atherosclerosis."

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"Diseases of civilization" began with agriculture. Physical anthro types can gauge the date farming begins in a culture by the advent of such diseases.

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