The group of people with the lowest reported levels of vascular aging are not world-famous athletes, dieticians, or Instagram health gurus, but rather a group of indigenous forager-horticulturalists living in the Bolivian Amazon. A recent study on the Tsimane people showed that they not only have the healthiest blood vessels in the world, but they are also five times less likely to experience coronary atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries.

A study published online in the journal The Lancet found that the Tsimane indigenous South Americans had the lowest prevalence of coronary atherosclerosis of any population that has been studied in the world. The team propose that this vascular health may be due to a combination of their diet and lifestyle, and suggest Westerners could lower their own risk of heart disease by adopting some of these traits. For example, their diet is low in saturated fat and high in unprocessed fiber-rich carbohydrates. They also eat high amounts of wild game and fish. As far as lifestyles, this population does not smoke and stays relatively active throughout the entire day.

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“The loss of subsistence diets and lifestyles could be classed as a new risk factor for vascular aging and we believe that components of this way of life could benefit contemporary sedentary populations,” explained senior author, Professor Hillard Kaplan in a recent statement.

For their research, the team visited 85 Tsimane villages and measured 705 villagers’ risk of heart disease by taking CT scans. The villagers were between the ages of 40 and 94, yet results showed that 85 percent had absolutely no risk of heart disease. A total of 89 had low risk of heart disease, and only 20 people (3 percent) had moderate or high risk. These numbers stayed consistent even as the villagers aged. To put this into perspective, according to a press release on the research, a similar study on same-aged Americans showed that only 13 percent had no risk of cardiovascular disease, and more than 50 percent had moderate or high risk. Based on these findings, the team concluded that the Tsimane people had the lowest reported levels of vascular aging of any other world population.

"This study suggests that coronary atherosclerosis could be avoided if people adopted some elements of the Tsimane lifestyle, such as keeping their LDL cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar very low, not smoking and being physically active," added senior cardiology author Dr Gregory S. Thomas in a statement.

According to The American Heart Association, atherosclerosis is a condition that develops when a substance called plaque builds up in the walls of the arteries. As the plaque builds up, it narrows the arteries, which can make it hard for blood to flow through. This process also leads to the contribution of heart disease. If a blood clot forms in the arteries, it can stop the blood flow and cause a heart attack or stroke. Researchers noted that death from heart attacks were also particularly low in this population.

Source:Kaplan H, Thompson RC, Trumble, et al.  Coronary atherosclerosis in indigenous South American Tsimane: a cross-sectional cohort study. The Lancet . 2017

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