A new study has revealed that a group of indigenous from the Bolivian Amazon has the healthiest hearts on the planet. The Tsimane spend their days farming and hunting, and research has shown they have the lowest ever recorded levels of clogged arteries among any other population studied in the world.

Scientists studied all Tsimane individuals who were 40 years or older and found that 85 percent of the 705 individuals analyzed had no evidence of clogged arteries. The study was published in The Lancet, and it was funded by the National Institute on Aging, National Institutes of Health, St Luke’s Hospital in Kansas City and the Paleocardiology Foundation.

Bolivia's Tsimimane
Bolivia’s Tsimimane. Image credit: UCSB Anthropology.

The Tsimane and cardiovascular risk 

Scientists searched for coronary artery calcium or “CAC,” which signifies that arteries are clogged, and the individual can be in danger of a heart attack. They scanned 705 people’s hearts as well as mummified bodies. They found that by the age of 45, almost no Tsimane had CAC in their arteries, a remarkable result opposed to American’s 25 percent rate of CAC. research found that by the time they are 75 years old, only one-third of Tsimane will show signs of CAC, while an 80 percent of Americans will show CAC signs by the same age.

The research also found that by the time they are 75 years old, only one-third of Tsimane will show signs of CAC, while an 80 percent of Americans will show CAC signs by the same age.

Bolivia's Tsimimane
Researchers said the study came from the need to comprehend coronary artery disease. Image credit: Klug Photos.

“Conventional coronary disease risk factors might potentially explain at least 90 percent of the attributable risk of coronary artery disease,” the study reads. “To better understand the association between the pre-industrial lifestyle and low prevalence of coronary artery disease risk factors, we examined the Tsimane, a Bolivian population living a subsistence lifestyle of hunting, gathering, fishing, and farming with few cardiovascular risk factors, but high infectious inflammatory burden.”

Michael Gurven, an anthropology professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, talked to the BBC about the study results.

“It is much lower than in every other population where data exists. The closest were Japanese women, but it is still a different ballpark altogether,” Gurven told the BBC.

Researchers believe that the study points to the importance of lowering risk factors for coronary disease. The Tsimane are very physically active individuals, they work out for up to seven hours daily, they eat healthily and don’t exceed with fat or sugar, and they do not smoke or drink except for rare occasions. However, they do get infections, which eventually could lead them to develope heart disease, by causing inflammation in the body.

The Tsimane Diet

The Tsimane live in the Maniqui River located in the Amazon rainforest and they are a group of around 16,000 individuals. Their home is located in the Bolivian lowlands, and it took the team of scientists much trouble to get there. Their diet is varied, and it mainly consists of foods they can obtain in the area.

Wild boar, tapir, and capybara make up for 17 percent of their diet, and freshwater fish like catfish and piranhas count for 7 percent of it. They also eat fruits, nuts, rice, maize, manioc root, and plantains.

Americans and Tsimane consume the same percentage of protein, but the indigenous group consumes far less saturated fat. The meats they eat are leaner and their carbohydrates —which make up for 72 percent of calories in their diet— are healthier and don’t include processed flours. Tsimane are active individuals; men average 17,000 steps a day and women 16,000.

A Tsimane family
A Tsimane family. Image credit: Michael Gurven.

More bicycle, no smoking

Scientists recommend that people should exercise more often and not just on the weekends. Riding a bicycle to work and taking the stairs can do a lot for the cardiovascular system. They believe that the study proves that healthier lifestyles result in fewer or none heart issues.

Gurven says that modern world keeps people alive, but urbanization and the specialization of the labor force could translate to new risk factors for coronary disease. In fact, the study showed that as Tsimane have been introduced to motorized canoes and some processed food, their cholesterol levels —although remarkably lower than other groups in the world— have increased too. Professor Naveed Sattar from the University of Glasgow was reached by the BBC for comments too.

Bolivia's Tsimimane
Tsimane kids. Image credit: Klug Photos.

“This is a beautiful real life study which reaffirms all we understand about preventing heart disease,” said Sattar. “Simply put, eating a healthy diet very low in saturated fat and full of unprocessed products, not smoking and being active lifelong, is associated with the lowest risk of having furring up of blood vessels.”

Source: BBC