The Amazonian way to a healthy heart
Where to find the healthiest hearts in the world? Turn your attention to the Tsimane people, a forager-horticulturalist people in the Bolivian Amazon.
Based on CT scans, 85% of the Tsimane had no risk of heart disease. And an 80-year-old from the tribe had the same vascular age as Americans in their mid-50s, according to a new study published in the Lancet and presented at a recent American College of Cardiology conference.
In an observational study, researchers visited 85 Tsimane villages in 2014 and 2015 and used CT scans of the hearts of 705 adults ages 40 to 94 to measure hardening of the coronary arteries. Data were also collected on weight, age, heart rate, blood pressure, cholesterol, blood glucose and inflammation. The study showed the Tsimane had the lowest prevalence of coronary atherosclerosis of any population yet studied.
The reasons why sound familiar.
“Their lifestyle suggests that a diet low in saturated fats and high in unprocessed fiber-rich carbohydrates, along with wild game and fish, not smoking, and being active throughout the day, could help prevent hardening in the arteries of the heart,” said study co-author Hillard Kaplan, a professor at the University of New Mexico.
While it may be a tad difficult to adopt the Tsimane lifestyle in modern-day America, you can take a few pointers. The Tsimane were active for 90% of the time during the day. Their diet is largely carbohydrate-based (72%) and includes non-processed carbohydrates rich in fiber, such as plantain, manioc, corn, nuts and fruits. Protein constitutes 14% of their diet and comes from animals. They consume on average only 38 grams of fat daily, and smoking is very rare.
Based on CT scans, 13% had a low or moderate risk of heart disease and 3% were at high risk. By comparison, a study of 6,814 Americans ages 45 to 84 found that only 14% were in the low- to no-risk category, and 50% had a moderate or high risk.