Recent research published in the Lancet has identified world’s healthiest hearts in Tsimane, indigenous people of Bolivia. Tsimenes, live in huts, with no running water or electricity and without all the conveniences of the modern society. And yet, they do not appear to develop heart disease, even as they age.
The researchers hypothesized that “active subsistence lifestyle, resembling an era before sedentary urbanization and large-scale economic specialization”, would be associated with low levels of heart disease. To test their hypothesis they assessed coronary artery calcium (CAC) by scanning 705 Tsimane people’s hearts with a CT scan. CT scan can detect and measure the amount of calcium found in the walls of the coronary arteries. Calcium buildup in artery walls is a sign of heart disease.
The results revealed a low prevalence of heart disease in Tsimane population. In fact, only 4% of the 80 year old Tsimane showed signs of heart disease. The authors compared the CAC scores of the Tsimane to those of the US population and concluded that “an 80-year old Tsimane possesses the “vascular age” of an American individual in their mid fifties”.
The reason why prevalence of heart disease is so low in this population is unknown, but it could be due to several different factors. Tsimane diet is different from the Western diet and is comprised of ca. 14% protein, 14% fat and a whopping 72% carbohydrate. Protein and fat in the diet come from hunting using bow and arrows and fishing using arrows, nets and hooks. Tsimane grow and eat non-processed, high-fibre low-simple-sugar and saturated-fat, carbohydrates such as rice, plantains, and corn and they gather nuts and fruits. They do not consume any trans fats.
Tsimane are also very physically active doing everything from farming and hunting, to food preparation, household chores and parenting. On average, a hunt can last up to 8 hours and can cover a distance of up to 18 km. It is estimated that the Tsimane men and women engage in ca. 4-6 hours of physical activity every day and that they spend less than 10% of their day sedentary.
So we could learn something from the Tsimene to prevent heart disease. A holistic approach to a healthy lifestyle goes a long way.
Nina Zisko, researcher at CERG