Previously, Thompson and his colleagues found evidence of atherosclerosis in Egyptian mummies. The findings suggested that our modern, unhealthy lifestyle may not deserve full blame for atherosclerosis -- after all, even ancient Egyptians had the disease.
"But after we reported our findings in ancient Egyptians we were criticized," said Thompson. "They were eating a diet that was rather rich and did not get much physical activity. They lived a lifestyle like ours, so it was not so surprising after all."
This most recent study found atherosclerosis in populations that subsisted on things like corn, squash, nuts, berries and fish - and were active - so our unhealthy, modern habits may play a lesser role in developing this disease than we think.
When the current crop of mummies was subjected to further analysis, calcium build up seemed to happen as a function of age, not diet and physical activity. But that does not mean that we modern people should ignore those other risk factors for atherosclerosis.
"If you have less control than you think you do, that's more reason to control what you can, like cholesterol, exercise and do things we know are healthy," said Thompson.
The problem, according to Thompson, is when patients feel weighed down by guilt because they can't control their diabetes or exercise enough.
"Some of that guilt is misplaced," said Thompson. "I think that some of the excessive focus on diet is oversold."