The Tsimane people are indeed an interesting lot. Their fame continues to sweep across the globe. After all, they are the most heart-healthy people living anywhere. The groundbreaking research done on them recently has brought to light indisputable evidence; that it is possible to avoid heart disease. In previous studies done on 3,000 year old Egyptian mummies, researchers found that artery hardening or coronary atherosclerosis was still present. Inaccurate conclusions had therefore been made from these findings. This means that scientists thought that heart disease was a normal part of aging that was inevitable. The study on the Tsimane people has refuted all the above claims; to show that people can indeed lead a life where heart disease does not have to develop.
Who exactly are the Tsimane people?
To give you some background, Tsimane people are an indigenous tribe who live on the lowlands of the Bolivian Amazon. A study on this tribe published in The Lancet medical journal showed that they have the lowest risk of developing heart disease. This risk is even lower than that of Japanese women who were previously thought to have the healthiest hearts in the world. The Tsimane people lead a very basic life of hunting, foraging and gathering. They rarely have any modern conveniences like running water and electricity. They Look for their food and consume it in a very raw format with very little processing if any.
What else did the study uncover?
The study on this native tribe was conducted between 2014 and 2015. It was funded by among others the Paleocardiology Foundation and the St Luke’s Hospital of Kansas City. This study involved 705 Tsimane volunteers of 40 years and above. CT scanners were used and coronary artery calcium (CAC) was assessed. In total, the study found that 85% of all participants had no CAC. This literally means that they had no evidence of artery hardening or atherosclerosis. The rest of the participants had very low CAC levels which gave them a slight risk for heart disease. Surprisingly, the study found that the Tsimane had very high inflammation levels. Despite this factor, their risk of heart disease remained very low.
Scientists also found that this tribe had very low blood sugar and low blood pressure. Their LDL was also low and cases of obesity were virtually non existent. There were very rare cases of smoking with plenty of physical activity being recorded among the tribe members. Compared to western societies, the lifestyle of these indigenous people is like night and day. Their diet was highly noted as a leading factor that could have contributed to their healthy hearts. There is no previous study that has found a group of people whose risk for heart disease is dramatically low.
What can the world learn from the Tsimane tribe on heart health?
There are endless lessons to be learned from these indigenous people. Lessons range from eating habits to physical activity. The Tsimane diet has sharply come into focus and it may hold the keys to a healthy heart. These people eat a fiber-rich diet consisting of plantains, corn, wild rice, manioc, fish and game meat. As you may have guessed, this diet is full of starches. The main difference is that these are whole starches that are loaded with fiber, minerals and vitamins. A smaller portion of their diet is made up of fish and game meat. In this regard, this is a high carbs and low protein diet. Many health experts would never recommend this diet for heart health. The Tsimane have brought a different narrative and it is probably a high time to revisit your western diet that you thought was heart-healthy.
It is not only what the Tsimane people eat that matters, it is also about what they do not eat. These people do not eat trans fats for example. These are man-made fats that include cooking oils, margarine among others. Research is very conclusive on the harm brought about by such fats. They raise bad cholesterol in the body and predispose you to heart disease. If you can do away with trans fats in your diet, this will most probably make you a healthier person. Keep in mind that cookies, cakes and deep-fried bites contain plenty of trans fats.
Another thing that these people rarely eat is sugar. In fact, they only eat natural forms of sugar like fruits. In the west, almost everything contains added sugar. This is probably the biggest element hard to eliminate in modern diets. Most people are happy to add sugar to their teas and coffees. Additionally, soft drinks and other fizzy drinks come loaded with more processed sugar. Should you quit all processed sugar? The answer to this question is simple; you should quit altogether if you cannot control your intake. Instead of looking at the glass half empty, why not think about natural sugars like fruits that you can add to your diet. Think bananas, berries, mangoes, sugar cane; and many more. You will soon discover that nature has all the sweetness you need.
Another pivotal lesson to learn from the Tsimane people has to do with physical activity. Over 85% of their time is spent outdoors looking for food and preparing their lands. Modern living may not provide for 80% physical activity daily but, you can seek to find a balance. Make sure to walk daily or use the stairs instead of lifts. Walk to work if possible or park far to establish a sustainable routine. Do fun things outdoors instead of watching movies all weekend. Wash the car or clean your bathroom; the point is that you can never run out of things to do on your feet.
There is virtually no Tsimane person who is obese. This should definitely ring a bell in the west. With so many cases of obesity in the modern world, it is no wonder the risk of heart disease abounds. Also, these people rarely smoke. These lessons when taken seriously can dramatically enhance your life. You have the power to keep ailments at bay. The Tsimane people are therefore very special because they show the world how to avoid heart disease. They remind us that wholesome healthy living can indeed add more value to life. Even though the Tsimane are not immune to other diseases, they are the new undisputed gold standard for heart health.