Mummy Scans Reveal Clogged Arteries

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Scans of mummies from as long ago as 2,000 BC have revealed that ancient people also had clogged arteries, a condition blamed on modern vices like smoking, overeating and inactivity, a study said Monday.

The finding, published in the Lancet medical journal, casts doubt on our understanding of the condition known as atherosclerosis that causes heart attacks and strokes.

“The presence of atherosclerosis in premodern human beings suggests that the disease is an inherent component of human aging and not associated with any specific diet or lifestyle,” states the study conclusion.

“A common assumption is that the rise in levels of atherosclerosis is predominantly lifestyle-related, and that if modern humans could emulate pre-industrial or even pre-agricultural lifestyles, that atherosclerosis… would be avoided,” cardiologist Randall Thompson, one of the authors of the international study, said in a statement issued by Lancet.

“Our findings seem to cast doubt on that assumption, and at the very least, we think they suggest that our understanding of the causes of atherosclerosis is incomplete, and that it might be somehow inherent to the process of human aging.”

This did not mean that lifestyle factors should be discounted, senior author Gregory Thomas, medical director of the Memorial Care Heart and Vascular Institute at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center in California, said.

They have been shown in study after study to contribute to the development of atherosclerosis, though the degree remains unclear.

“Our study demonstrates… that we are all at risk of atherosclerosis,” said Thomas.

“We should do the very best we can to avoid these risk factors. We can not expect, however, that avoiding them will prevent atherosclerosis.”

Atherosclerosis is a hardening and narrowing of the arteries that transport oxygen-rich blood from the heart, through a buildup of fatty material or cholesterol.

The World Health Organization considers smoking, physical inactivity, a high-salt, high-fat diet and high alcohol use as risk factors.

For this study, the researchers performed full-body computed tomography (CT) scans on 137 mummies from four geographic regions in modern-day Egypt, Peru, southwest America and Alaska.

The mummies were of people who had lived over a 4,000-year period stretching from ancient Egypt in about 2,000 BC to the Unangan hunter-gatherers who lived in the Aleutian Islands of modern-day Alaska as recently as 1930.

The team diagnosed “probable or definite” atherosclerosis in more than a third of the mummies on the basis of calcification of the arteries shown up by the scans.

A similar diagnostic method is used today.

The calcification was found in the same locations as in modern humans, and the appearance was the same.

“Our findings greatly increase the number of ancient people known to have atherosclerosis and show for the first time that the disease was common in several ancient cultures with varying lifestyles, diets and genetics, across a wide geographical distance and over a very long span of human history,” the scientists wrote.

“These findings suggest that our understanding of the causative factors of atherosclerosis is incomplete.”

The mummies of older people were more likely to show signs of the disease, just as in humans today.

Other research cited in the study has found atherosclerosis to be common in people living today, even ubiquitous in men by age 60 and women by 70.

“We simply don’t know enough about the diet and lifestyle of the people studied to say whether behavior or genetics lies at the root” of the disease, the British Heart Foundation said in a comment on the study.

And Grethe Tell, an expert with the European Society of Cardiology, said the findings “do not refute” that an unhealthy lifestyle increased the risk of heart attack and stroke.

“Not everybody who has atherosclerosis (whatever the cause may be) gets clinical disease,” she explained.

“Lifestyle factors increase the risk of heart attacks and may therefore be a triggering factor in the chain between atherosclerosis and heart attack.”

According to the study, the ancient populations’ diets had been varied — including everything from shellfish and fish, game, domesticated cattle, sheep, pigs and ducks to a wide variety of berries, farmed maize, beans and potato — even beer and wine in the case of the Egyptians.

None of the groups were known to be vegetarian, and physical activity was probably high.

Smoke inhalation may have played a role, as many of the communities used indoor fires for cooking and heating.

Clogged arteries previously observed in ancient Egyptian mummies had hitherto been attributed to a high-fat diet of the elite — as poor people in those communities were not mummified.

The latest findings also refute that conclusion.

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10 Medical Myths

We have all heard them at one time or another. From recommendations of drinking eight glasses of water a day to warnings about staying in from the cold when sick, some medical myths endure no matter how many times they’ve been disproved.  So lets count down the top 10 myths.

10) Myth: Vaccines can cause the flu (and autism).

While the body can react to any shot with a low-grade fever, rumors that a flu shot can cause the flu are an outright lie.The flu shot does contain dead flu viruses but they are, well, dead. A dead virus cannot be resurrected to cause the flu.

As for vaccines causing autism, this myth was started in 1998 by an article in the journal The Lancet. In the study, the parents of eight,yes eight, autistic children said they believed their children acquired autism after they received a measles, mumps and rubella vaccination.

Correlation was quickly confused with causation, and since then, rumors have run rampant despite many studies such as a 2002 study in the New England Journal of Medicine of 530,000 (count ’em, 530,000) children that have found nothing to suggest that vaccinations increase the risk of becoming autistic.

Unfortunately, the endurance of this myth continues to eat up time and funding dollars that could be used to make advances in autism, rather than proving, over and over again, that vaccinations do not cause the condition.

9) Myth: Supplements always make you healthier.

An increasing number of studies are finding that vitamin supplementation may not only be ineffectual but may even be dangerous.

For example, people downing vitamins C and E may be predisposing themselves to cancer, according to a study published earlier this year in the journal Stem Cells, as high doses of these antioxidants can cause genetic abnormalities.

Similarly, a study published this year in the journal Cancer Research linked fish oil supplements with cancer in mice. The FDA does not require supplements to be regulated in the same way that drugs are, which can be a real problem.

As a result, the safety of many supplements has not been rigorously studied. Furthermore, the bottles can sport unsubstantiated claims and even make errors in dosage recommendations. There is no need to worry about overdosing, however, if the good-for-you compound is coming from real food, rather than a pill.

A vitamin pill is not the answer, Eating more healthily in general is the answer.

8) Myth: Cold weather makes you sick.

This myth is common around the world, but it is just not true. Studies have shown we may feel more cold symptoms real or imaginary when we are chilled (after all, a cold is called a cold for a reason), but the temperature does not make us more susceptible to viruses.

This has been known since at least 1968, when a study in the New England Journal of Medicine showed what happened when researchers exposed chilly people to the rhinovirus (one cause of the common cold).

Whether shivering in a frigid room or stuttering in an icy bath, people were no more likely to get sick after sniffing cold germs than they were at more comfortable temperatures. And if you are already sick, there is no reason you can’t go out into cold weather.

While rest is good for an ill body, chilly temperatures aren’t going to make a difference on recovery time, In fact, while the research is in its early stages, it is possible that being exposed to cold may even help your body in some way.

Some scientists speculate that colds are more common in cooler months because people stay indoors more, interacting more closely with one another and giving germs more opportunities to spread.

7) Myth: We use only 10 percent of our brains.

Motivational speakers and other self-help gurus have been promoting this one since as early as 1907, as a way to encourage people to tap into some latent capacity, But none of these people were basing the proclamation on sound science.

Today, we can take a look at any brain scan, measuring activity at any given time, and have a big laugh at this myth. You just don’t see big dormant areas. So why does the idea still linger in popular culture? I think we like it, We want to think we haven’t reached our full potential.

6) Myth: Sugar turns kids into little monsters.

It can be hard to find a parent that does not believe this, But it is in their heads. In one particularly clever study among a slew of studies finding sugar’s nil effect on unruliness kids were given Kool-Aid sweetened with aspartame, a compound that contains no sugar.

Researchers told half of the parents the Kool-Aid contained sugar, and told the other half the truth. The parents who thought their kids were riding a sugar-high reported their children were uncontrollable and overactive. But a sensor on the kids’ wrists, that measured activity level, said the opposite: The kids were actually acting subdued.

The study was published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology in 1994. Sugar is often given at times when the rules are loosened and there are lots of other kids around like birthday parties and holidays, These factors may be behind the myth’s persistence in popular culture.

5) Myth: You need to stay awake if you’ve had a concussion.

Concussions are relatively common, and while they always merit medical attention, they are rarely severe or life- threatening.

Warnings to stay awake after a concussion most likely grew out of a misunderstanding about a particular type of head injury one that involves brain bleeding where a “lucid period” is followed by a coma or worse.

But this is very uncommon and doesn’t pertain to people with normal concussions, If you’ve been evaluated by a doctor, and he has said that you have a mild regular concussion, you don’t need to worry that someone has to wake you up every hour.

4) Myth: Chewing gum stays in your stomach for 7 years.

While it is true that many of the ingredients in gum, such as elastomers, resins and waxes, are indigestible, that does not mean they hang out in our guts for a subset of eternity.

Plenty of what we eat even things we are recommended to eat, such as fiber is indigestible. But the digestive system is a robust piece of organic machinery, and anything it can’t absorb, it moves along.

Despite the stickiness and strange consistency of gum, it passes right through your digestive tract and into the toilet.

3) Myth: Reading in the dark or sitting too close to the TV ruins your eyesight.

Dim light, or alternatively, staring into the multicolored tube at close range, can undoubtedly make your eyes work so hard they hurt. But there is no evidence that these practices cause long-term damage.

The TV myth may have started in the 1960s, and at that time it may have been true. Some early color TV sets emitted high amounts of radiation that could have caused eye damage, but this problem has long been remedied, and today’s TV and computer monitors are relatively safe.

If you or your child tend to sit so close to the computer or TV it hurts the eyes, it may be time to check for nearsightedness. But sitting too close does not create a need for glasses even if getting glasses can remedy the habit.

2) Myth: You should drink at least 8 glasses of water a day.

In general, we are not all walking around in a dehydrated state, our bodies are very good at regulating our fluid levels.

The eight-glasses-a-day myth likely started in 1945 when the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Research Council said adults should take in about 2.5 liters of water a day (equivalent to about eight glasses, or two-thirds of a gallon).

While most media outlets reported just that, the council actually went on to explain that most of the 2.5 liters comes from food. The recommendation should be amended to: Drink, or eat, about eight glasses of fluid a day.

1) Myth: You should wait an hour after eating before you go swimming.

This myth has ruined many summer afternoons, forcing young and old to swelter in the heat while cool waters beckoned all because they were careless enough to down a pb&j.

Let the ban be lifted: There is no special reason not to swim after eating. True, any type of vigorous exercise can be uncomfortable (although not dangerous) after an overwhelming feast.

But for most of us whose waterfront dining experience includes sand-dusted chips and soggy sandwiches that is hardly a concern. And cramps can happen anytime, whether you’ve eaten or not.

If you are swimming in waters so rough that a charley horse will mean the death of you, you should probably swim elsewhere. Just don’t forget the picnic!