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What can the Tsimane teach us about heart disease prevention?
The Healthiest Hearts On Earth
What is remarkable about the Tsimane people is that they have the lowest reported levels of coronary artery disease of any population examined to date.
In a new study1 published in Lancet, researchers took CT scans of the hearts of 705 Tsimane men and women ages 40 to 94 to measure the extent of the calcification of their coronary arteries. Essentially, the less calcification one has, the better. A lot of calcium deposits denotes a lot of plaque build-up and blockages of arteries, which means greater risk of heart attacks, angina (chest pain), and other heart-related challenges.
Tsimane CT Scores
Here is what the CT scans of the Tsimane villagers revealed:
- 85% had no heart disease risk. Their CT scans showed a score of zero, which indicates no evidence of advanced coronary artery disease.
- 13% had low risk (a score less than 100)
- 3% had a moderate-to-high risk (a score of more than 100).
American CT Scores
By contrast, a similar study2 of more than 6,000 people ages 45 to 84 in the U.S. had the following calcification results:
- Only 14% of the Americans had no risk (a CT score of zero)
- 36% had low risk
- 50% had a moderate-to-high risk
“These findings are very significant,” stated cardiologist Randall Thompson, MD, FACC, from Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute. He presented the results of the study at the American College of Cardiology 2017 meeting.
“Put another way, the arteries of the Tsimane are 25 to 30 years younger than the arteries of sedentary urbanites. The data also show that the Tsimane arteries are aging at a much slower rate.”
Indeed, the healthy arteries of the Tsimane villagers continued into old age. Among those who were over the age of 75, fully two-thirds had a CT score of zero. Only 8% had a moderate- or high-risk score of more than 100.
The Healthiest Hearts Diet | What Is It?
For starters, this healthiest hearts diet is carbohydrate-rich, but they are not the hyper-processed, refined carbohydrates typical in American society, for example, white breads, potato chips, and sugary drinks.
The carbohydrates of the Tsimane are whole carbs – rich in fiber and straight from the earth. Two-thirds of their diet is starchy carbohydrates such as corn, manioc root, plantains, and rice, which they grow locally. The remaining third is foods they hunt and gather – carbs like fruit as well as nuts, freshwater fish, and free-roaming animals, like pigs, that are much leaner than the pigs grown in U.S. stockyards.
Only about 2% of the calories in a typical Tsimane diet come from foods purchased in stores, such as bread, pasta, crackers, and sugar.
Research3 on Tsimane women broke down the Tsimane diet as:
- 72% carbohydrate
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