What You Can Learn from an Indigenous Group with the Lowest Rates of Heart Disease Ever Recorded

Members of the Tsimane people who are among a group of indigenous people with a traditional lifestyle deep in the Bolivian Amazon, and according to a new study released Friday March 17, 2017, they have some of the healthiest hearts on the planet, according to Dr. Randall Thompson, a cardiologist at St. Luke’s Health System in Kansas City, Missouri, USA.  Michael Gurven/St. Luke’s Health System Kansas City via AP

An indigenous group in the Bolivian Amazon has the lowest rates of heart disease ever recorded, according to a study published in The Lancet.

A team of doctors and anthropologists visited 85 Tsimané (pronounced chee-MAH-nay) villages between 2014 and 2015 to measure people’s risk of heart disease. Using chest CT scans on 705 adults ages 40 to 49, the researchers wanted to check the Tsimané’s risk for atherosclerosis, a disease that causes plaque to build up in your arteries and can lead to heart attack and stroke.

The results were astounding: Atherosclerosis among the population was five times less common than in the U.S. One subject, an 80-year-old woman from the Tsimané population, had the same vascular age as an American in his or her mid-fifties, according to researchers.

It turns out the Tsimané do what every health professional in the world already recommends: They eat well, don’t smoke, and exercise often.

The Tsimané people consume very little fat and zero trans fats, eat a lot of non-processed carbohydrates, such as rice, corn, plantains, and fruit, and get a much lower amount of protein from meat. Plus, the Tsimané walk everywhere. As in, 17,000 steps per day, leaving the average American’s standard 5,000 steps in the dust.

Researchers found that 85 percent of the people studied had absolutely no risk of heart disease. Even among the elderly Tsimané population, only 8 percent had moderate or high-risk indications. Compare that to a study of 6,814 Americans, in which half of participants had either a moderate or high risk of being affected by atherosclerosis.

Researchers also noticed that the Tsimané had a lower heart rate and lower levels of blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar, potentially because of their lifestyle.

You probably aren’t going to drop all the comforts on the 21st century to adopt the practices of an Amazonian indigenous group. But the researchers note that certain elements of the Tsimané lifestyle are perfectly doable, and could help reduce risk of heart disease.

“Most of the Tsimané are able to live their entire life without developing any coronary atherosclerosis,” says senior author Dr Gregory S. Thomas. “This has never been seen in any prior research. While difficult to achieve in the industrialized world, we can adopt some aspects of their lifestyle to potentially forestall a condition we thought would eventually affect almost all of us.”