Members of the Tsimane tribe that live in the Amazon jungle have the healthiest hearts in the world, and how they live offers insights that can help prevent cardiovascular diseases in regions where many people are plagued by heart conditions.
In a study involving more than 700 of these primitive people, researchers of a new study published in the journal The Lancet have found that nearly nine out of 10 Tsimane people have clear arteries, which means no risk for heart disease.
Study researcher Gregory Thomas, from Long Beach Memorial medical center in California, and colleagues also found that the arteries of an 80-year-old Tsimane is comparable to that of an American in his mid-50's.
The Tsimane people live a primitive life. They hunt for wild game which includes monkeys and piranhas, forage fruits and nuts, and grow rice, corn, plantains, and manioc roots in small plots of family farm.
While it may seem that the low heart disease rate in this people is due to living a pre-modern life, related studies conducted by the same group of researchers involving 137 mummies from ancient populations suggest that heart disease is not necessarily a result of modernity. Many of the mummies had atherosclerosis.
"Atherosclerosis was common in four preindustrial populations including preagricultural hunter-gatherers," the researchers wrote in their 2013 study. "The presence of atherosclerosis in pre-modern human beings raises the possibility of a more basic predisposition to the disease."
Although there are several potential factors that can be attributed for the Tsimane people's heart health such as genetics, their diet and how they live in general offer hints on how to have healthy hearts.
The diet of the Tsimane is far different from that of the typical American diet. Theirs is about 14 percent protein, 14 percent fat, and 72 percent carbohydrate. Diets in the United States are typically 16 percent protein, 51 percent carbohydrate, and 33 percent fat.
Researchers noted that the carbohydrates that the Tsimane consumes are high in fiber as well as very low in saturated fat and simple sugars. Sugar and fat have been implicated in stroke and heart disease. A 2014 study, for instance, has found that increased intake of sugar increases heart disease risk.
The Tsimane also engage in a lot of physical activities which is in contrast with the sedentary lifestyles in countries where cardiovascular disease rates are high. Several studies have associated lack of movement with increased risk for heart conditions. A 2016 study found that being sedentary can promote hardening of the arteries. Sedentary lifestyle has also been linked to increased heart failure risk.
Researchers said that several elements of the Tsimane lifestyle may be transferrable to Western behaviors that can reduce likelihood for heart disease.
"It's not practical to be a subsistence farmer where you have to hunt and grow all your food. If we increase our dose of health by not smoking, a better diet and more exercise, we can get a good dose of the benefit," said Thomas.