Ama­zo­nian ap­petite for a health­ier heart

Nelson Mail - - COMMENT&OPINION - CHRIS SMYTH The Times

If you’re done with Dukan and failed at the 5:2 sci­en­tists say there is a new diet for the per­fectly healthy heart: the rain­for­est regime. An Ama­zo­nian peo­ple reliant on sub­sis­tence hunting have the health­i­est ar­ter­ies in the world.

Heart dis­ease is al­most un­known among the Tsi­mane peo­ple of north­ern Bo­livia, who have the vas­cu­lar sys­tems of Amer­i­cans 30 years younger and re­main as fit as 20-year-olds well into old age, re­searchers re­port in The Lancet.

They eat a diet rich in veg­eta­bles, grains, lean meat and fish and – per­haps most im­por­tantly – they spend most of their day walk­ing.

Scans of 707 Tsi­mane found that 85 per cent had no risk of heart dis­ease at all, with none of the hard­en­ing of the ar­ter­ies that in­di­cates prob­lems. Even over the age of 75 two thirds had no hard­en­ing, also known as ath­er­o­scle­ro­sis, at all and only 8 per cent had even a mod­er­ate risk. That com­pares with half of west­ern­ers the same age.

‘‘Most Tsi­mane live their en­tire life with­out de­vel­op­ing any coro­nary ath­er­o­scle­ro­sis – some­thing never seen in any prior re­search,’’ Gre­gory Thomas of the Long Beach Memo­rial Medical Cen­tre in Cal­i­for­nia, a se­nior au­thor of the pa­per, said. ‘‘There must be some­thing in­cred­i­ble that they’re do­ing. Ex­er­cise is prob­a­bly the big­gest part of it. Their diet is great but in the UK those whose diet is great still get heart dis­ease, just years later.’’

In many ways the Tsi­mane diet is sim­i­lar to that rec­om­mended in west­ern ad­vice to keep the heart healthy. How­ever, they con­sume even less saturated fat from meat, no dairy prod­ucts and fewer oils than the Mediter­ranean diet.

Al­most three quar­ters of what they eat is car­bo­hy­drate, mainly rice, plan­tain and man­ioc they grow them­selves, and wild nuts and fruits. Pro­tein com­prises 14 per cent of their diet, mainly from wild an­i­mals which are much less fatty than farmed meat. The Tsi­mane also spend about six hours a day hunting, gath­er­ing, fish­ing and farm­ing. Only 10 per cent of their time is spent sit­ting down, com­pared with 54 per cent in modern cities.

For peo­ple wish­ing to copy the regime, Pro­fes­sor Thomas ad­vised: ‘‘I would restrict as much as pos­si­ble your saturated fat, then I would dou­ble your ex­er­cise. We should think about the quan­tity over the in­ten­sity and try to in­te­grate as much walk­ing as we can through­out the day. Life­long sub­stan­tial phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity and a very low-fat diet hold the prom­ise of pre­vent­ing or de­lay­ing the block­ages that cause heart at­tacks.’’

There is, how­ever, a down­side to liv­ing like the Tsi­mane. Many die of in­fec­tions, which could mean that only the health­i­est sur­vive into old age.

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