March 18, 2018

Indigenous Bolivians have some of the healthiest hearts

19 March 2017, 06:54 | Winifred Adams

Sitting down but not for long Matthieu Paley National Geographic Creative

Tsimane indigenous group

Researchers have identified the Tsimane people as having the healthiest hearts in the world. They have no electricity and spend around six hours a day hunting, foraging and fishing.

In a study funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, researchers revealed that only 14 percent of people in the United States who had CT scans had no heart disease.

Dr. Kim Williams, immediate past president of the American College of Cardiology, agreed, noting that modern medicine has focused less on prevention than on surgeries, procedures and drugs that save and extend the lives of heart attack or stroke victims. They scanned 705 people's hearts as well as mummified bodies.

That continued into old age, where nearly two-thirds (65 per cent) of those aged over 75 had nearly no risk.

"The Tsimane indigenous South Americans have the lowest prevalence of coronary atherosclerosis of any population yet studied", says Hillard Kaplan, at the University of New Mexico. Image credit: Klug Photos."Conventional coronary disease risk factors might potentially explain at least 90 percent of the attributable risk of coronary artery disease", the study reads. Interestingly, even though numerous people had high levels of inflammation, it didn't appear to affect their heart disease risk.

Although the Tsimane lifestyle is very different from contemporary society, certain transferable elements could help to reduce the risk of heart disease.

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Due to their way of living as subsistence farmers and hunters, men of the tribe are physically active between six and seven hours a day averaging 17,000 steps daily. However, both groups showed significant amounts inflammation, which challenges the belief that the presence of inflammation in the body causes heart disease. The Tsimane settlement of Anachere, in the Amazon rainforest, Bolivia. Their home is located in the Bolivian lowlands, and it took the team of scientists much trouble to get there.

Their diet is largely carbohydrate-based (72 per cent) and includes non-processed carbs which are high in fibre such as rice, plantain, corn, nuts and fruits.

Americans and Tsimane consume the same percentage of protein, but the indigenous group consumes far less saturated fat.

The men of the community averaged 17,000 steps per day and the women averaged 16,000 steps, with those over 60 still averaging an impressive 15,000 steps each day.

Scientists have fresh evidence of just how healthy a non-Western lifestyle can be. Riding a bicycle to work and taking the stairs can do a lot for the cardiovascular system.

The tribe's lifestyle was considered a factor for its healthy hearts, but critics noted that the members of the Tsimane forager-farmer community lived hand-to-mouth and shouldn't be hailed as a global model, Agence France-Presse reported. "The modern world is keeping us alive, but urbanisation and the specialisation of the labour force could be new risk factors [for an unhealthy heart]". The Tsimane's average level of inflammation was still relatively high, thanks to the constant diseases and parasites they deal with, and their level of HDL cholesterol was also fairly low. Professor Naveed Sattar from the University of Glasgow was reached by the BBC for comments too.

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