By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS
In the Bolivian Amazon, there’s a group with the healthiest arteries of all populations ever studied.
Among the Tsimane (pronounced chee-mah-nay) people – a remote society of foragers and horticulturalists – hardening of the arteries is five times less common than in the United States, researchers have found.
The study included 705 Tsimane adults between ages 40 and 94. Researchers did CT scans of the heart and measured weight, age, heart rate, blood pressure, cholesterol, blood glucose and inflammation. They found that most – 85 percent – had no risk of heart disease. Only 3 percent had a moderate to high risk of heart disease.
“Most of the Tsimane are able to live their entire life without developing any coronary atherosclerosis,” the study’s senior author Gregory S. Thomas, M.D., medical director at MemorialCare Heart & Vascular Institute at Long Beach Memorial in California, said in a news release. “This has never been seen in any prior research.”
By comparison, a U.S.-based study of more than 6,800 adults between ages 45 and 84 showed 50 percent had a moderate or high risk of developing heart disease.
The study estimates that an 80-year-old from the Tsimane society had the same vascular age as an American in their mid-50s.
The study suggests, investigators said, that people in developed countries who have more sedentary lifestyles and eat processed foods could benefit from adopting the Tsimane’s healthier, low-fat diet and active lifestyle “to potentially forestall a condition we thought would eventually affect almost all of us,” Thomas said.
Blood tests showed the Tsimane had low blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar, which may also be tied to their eating and exercise routines, researchers said.
The Tsimane people live in lowland forests and savannas east of the Andes Mountains in north central Bolivia. Their diet is high in foods such as rice, plantains, nuts, fruits and low in meat and fats. Few of them smoke. Investigators estimate they spend at least four hours each day fishing, hunting, farming and doing other physically demanding activities.
Researchers, however, believe new roads and motorized canoes that over the past five years have given them easier and faster access to nearby towns is affecting their health. More Tsimane are now eating sugar and using cooking oil to prepare their meals.
The study did not look at whether coronary artery hardening in the Tsimane people impacted their health, but researchers note that deaths from heart attacks are very uncommon. The researchers are now looking at the association of low levels of atherosclerosis and heart disease among the Tsimane.
The results were presented Friday at the American College of Cardiology’s 66th Annual Scientific Session and published simultaneously in The Lancet.