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Blog: Heart disease and remote Bolivian tribe

"Heart attacks and strokes are an artifact of sedentary lifestyles and bad eating habits, according to a new study of a primitive Amazonian tribe called the Tsimane. The findings, reported today in the online journal PLoS One, suggest that our ancestors probably did not suffer from such problems to any significant extent and that heart attacks and stroke are largely modern illnesses.

The Tsimane are a group of perhaps 6,000 indigenous people that live in the Beni province of Bolivia, mostly along the banks of the Maniqui River. They cultivate plantains, manioc, corn and rice, and they fish, hunt and gather wild berries to supplement their diet. They also grow and harvest their own tobacco and ferment manioc and maize to produce alcohol. Their average life expectancy is only 43 years, with half dying from infectious and parasitic diseases, such as parasitic worms and pathogenic protozoa. Anemia is present in a large fraction of the people and growth is stunted. Obesity is rare to nonexistent.

Anthropologist Michael Gurven of UC Santa Barbara and his colleagues have been studying the Tsimane since 2001. With Dr. Eileen Crimmins of the USC Davis School of Gerontology, they have been looking at predictors of heart disease, such as hypertension, obesity, diet and smoking habits in the population.

Previous studies in smaller groups have suggested that the active lifestyle and lean diet of indigenous peoples protects them from heart disease, but such conclusions have been limited by the small number of people remaining in such populations. The Tsimane population is large enough that it can provide reliable statistics, but small enough that the team was able to study a large fraction of the people older than 40, Crimmins said."

Get the Story:
Booster Shots: Study on Bolivian tribe shows heart attack and stroke are modern illnesses (The Los Angeles Times 8/10)

Get the Study:
Inflammation and Infection Do Not Promote Arterial Aging and Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors among Lean Horticulturalists (PLoS One August 2009)