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Tuesday, April 30, 2013


A study in which researchers scanned mummies to look for signs of heart disease garnered a significant amount of coverage in print and online. The researchers say the findings suggest that heart disease may not simply be a result of modern living. USA 

Today (3/11, Szabo, 1.71M) reports, "Researchers have found clogged arteries, or what's left of the arteries, in mummies from nearly 4,000 years ago." These "findings - from humans who lived thousands of years before the invention of Twinkies and curly fries - are leading some doctors to reconsider their notions about the causes of heart disease." The "authors of the new paper, published Sunday in The Lancet and presented at a meeting of the American College of Cardiology in San Francisco, say they were shocked by their discovery."

The Wall Street Journal (3/11, Winslow, Subscription Publication, 2.29M) reports that for the study, investigators performed CT scans on 137 mummies.

The New York Times (3/11, Bakalar, Subscription Publication, 1.68M) reports, "The scans were read by seven imaging experts who judged atherosclerosis by the presence of calcification in the walls of clearly discernible arteries or along the expected route of an artery no longer visible." Prior "research has found evidence of atherosclerosis in Egyptian mummies, but mummification in Egypt was practiced among the elite, whose diet and lifestyle probably differed substantially from that of the rest of the population."

The Washington Post (3/11, Brown, 489K) reports, "The condition was common in four groups - ancient Egyptians, pre-Columbian people in Peru and Utah, and 19th-century Alaska natives - with different diets and ways of life." The researchers found "'probable or definite' 34 percent of the mummies." Just "4 percent, however, had atherosclerosis in the coronary arteries, where it can cause heart attacks."

The AP (3/11) reports that the "researchers say" the finding "suggests heart disease may be more a natural part of human aging rather than being directly tied to contemporary risk factors like smoking, eating fatty foods and not exercising."

The Kansas City (MO) Star (3/10, 197K) reports on its front page, "The researchers' findings are the most thorough evidence to date using mummies that atherosclerosis was a common occurrence in antiquity."

In Forbes (3/11, 928K), Larry Husten writes, "Although the populations from which the mummies came did not smoke cigarettes, the authors point out that 'the need for fire and thus smoke inhalation could have played a part in the development of atherosclerosis.'" Additionally, "they...speculate that high levels of infections might have contributed to the development of atherosclerosis in this population."

CardioSource (3/11) reports that ACC President-Elect John Gordon Harold, MD, MACC, said, "Assumed to be a modern disease, the presence of atherosclerosis in these disparate populations suggests the possibility of a more basic predisposition to the disease and that atherosclerosis is an inherent component of human aging with other causes or risk factors that need to be further elucidated." 

Also covering the story are the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (3/11, Fauber, 221K), Bloomberg News (3/11, Lopatto), Reuters (3/11, Steenhuysen), the NBC News (3/11, Fox), the CNN (3/10) "The Chart" blog, MedPage Today (3/11, Fiore), Heartwire (3/11, O'Riordan), and HealthDay (3/11, Mundell). For a clinical perspective on this article, go to

POSTED BY: Steven Almany M.D.

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