The mummy study shows that heart disease may be a natural human condition.

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The researchers scanned the mummies and found hardened arteries, some of them more than 3,000 years old. A more modern diet and lifestyle was once thought to be a cause of heart disease, but a new study published in the lancet recently may prove to be another case. Audie Cornish spoke to cardiologist Randall Thompson, one of the authors of the study.
Ever wonder why mummies always sound like serious indigestion?
CORNISH: there’s a “scooby-doo” there. But the mummy sounds like a cry for some Tums, right?
Connis: but seriously, some scientists have been working on a group of real mummies, and they found that 34 percent of them may have hardened arteries. Yes, about a third of the mummies are clearly suffering from heart disease. The study, published in the journal lancet, raises a big question. Does this mean that heart disease may be just a part of the aging process, after all?
Randall Thompson is joining us now. He presented the findings at a meeting of the American college of cardiology in San Francisco. Randall Thompson, welcome to the show.
DR. RANDALL THOMPSON: thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here.
CORNISH: so I read in this study that they had a CT scan of 137 mummies from different parts of the world. And this research is going to us, basically what you found.
Thompson: well, we found that heart disease is a mysterious killer that has been stalking humans for more than 4,000 years. We found that the disease in human history a very wide range of time across a wide range of geographic span and has a very different diet, a very different way of life and a very different climate culture exist in four of these cultures.
Therefore, we conclude that the disease – atherosclerosis – the disease lead to heart attack and stroke – seems to be associated with human aging, not any diet or lifestyle.
CORNISH: you mentioned four groups. Where do different mummies come from?
Thompson: so these four groups are the ancient egyptians, the ancient peruvians, the pueblans from the southwest of North America, and the ancient aruda islanders. In fact, the people of aruda are not ancient people. They have been a traditional way of life since the 19th century, the traditional way of life, and they are the hunter-gatherers, and so on.
CORNISH: so you did a CT scan and you found out what that was, leading you to believe that heart disease was his condition with us?
Thompson: well, the tool we use is a CT scanner. CT scans show calcium in the arteries. Calcium is part of the process that causes heart attacks and strokes. So this is a clue. This is the residue left over, and it’s been around for a long time, as far as we know. In fact, it has been around for hundreds or even thousands of years.
CORNISH: what’s there? Right? The artery is still there…
CORNISH: on the mummy? Or are you just looking at calcium?
Thompson: sometimes the arteries are great there. So these bodies are about 3,000 years old or older, and we can still recognize part of the body — the aorta. We can see the calcium inside the aorta. Now, at other times, the soft tissue and the arteries have been dissolved, and the rest is calcium.
We’re going to see calcium in the arteries. In those cases, we encode it as possible atherosclerosis, a possible disease. Depending on whether we can see the arteries, we divide the mummies into definite or probable.
CORNISH: now, should I feel guilty about Big Mac spending?
CORNISH: is there anything else that can contribute to that?
Thompson: yeah, so we may have less control over heart disease than we might think, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t control the risk factors that you should control. If you have high blood pressure, you should treat it. If you have high cholesterol, you should control your cholesterol. But there are certain foods that are healthier than others, and of course some are healthier than others, and we should all take care of ourselves.
CORNISH: okay, Randall Thompson, thank you so much for talking to us.
Thompson: thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here.
CORNISH: that’s Randall Thompson, a cardiologist at st. Luke’s central American heart institute. He was the lead researcher on the study and found signs of heart disease in the mummies.

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