South American tribe found to have the healthiest hearts ever studied

19 March, 2017, 06:51 | Author: Eloise Marshall
  • Tsimane indigenous group

He is medical director of the Memorial Care Heart & Vascular Institute at Long Beach Memorial, in California.

"It may not be possible for people in the industrialised world to copy the Tsimane community's way of life, but there are certainly aspects of their diet and lifestyle - such as not smoking and eating a diet low in fat - that we can better incorporate into our lives to help reduce our risk of heart disease", says Nilesh Samani, of charity the British Heart Foundation.

The importance of studying cultures such as the Tsimane's is helpful in combating the rising costs of diseases related to heart health in the US. Roads and canoes that lead to towns where they can obtain sugar and oil are slowly changing their heart healthy lifestyles, but for the most part, they lead daily lives free from electricity, cars, and cellphones. "They basically have the physiology of a 20-year-old".

They measured their risk of heart disease by taking CT scans of the hearts of 705 adults, aged 40 to 94, to measure the extent of hardening of the coronary arteries, as well as measuring weight, age, heart rate, blood pressure, cholesterol, blood glucose and inflammation.

"If you think of the calcium plaque as a reasonable measure of arterial age, their arteries are 28 to 30 years younger than ours", said study researcher Randall Thompson, from St. Luke's Mid America Heart Institute.

The heart researchers learned of the Tsimane through anthropologists who have been studying the tribe, in a research effort led by Hillard Kaplan, a professor at the University of New Mexico.

"This study shows prevention really works", Thomas said. The Tsimane also fish in the Bolivian Amazon, which is known for its rich variety and freshwater.

Members of the tribe live in thatched huts in the Bolivian jungle. The results are the lowest reported levels of vascular ageing of any population recorded to date.

The scans showed that nearly nine in 10 of the Tsimane (85 percent) had no risk of heart disease because they had no arterial plaques.

Only 3 percent of Tsimane people were at moderate or high risk compared to 50 percent of adults in the United States.

The study took place in 85 Tsimane villages from July 2014 to September 2015. Whereas most people in the United States struggle to meet the minimum amount of weekly physical activity optimized for health (150 minutes of moderate aerobics), the Tsimane are active 90 percent of their day. The women are physically active 4 to 6 hours a day, and average about 16,000 steps. Almost three-fourths of what they eat are non-processed carbohydrates, such as rice, plantains, corn, nuts and fruits, and their protein comes from lean wild game and fish. "They mainly use cigarettes to burn these huge flies out of their skin, down there in the rainforest", he said. Are the Tsimane people some kind of superhuman group impervious to disease?

These results suggest that urbanization could be considered a risk factor for hardening of the arteries, as modern people leave behind lives of struggle for a more cushy existence, he said.

Coronary atherosclerosis, the gradual hardening and "furring up" of the arteries, can have serious consequences including heart attacks and strokes.


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