The healthiest hearts in the world have been found in the Tsimane people in the forests of Bolivia, say researchers.
Barely any Tsimane had signs of clogged up arteries – even well into old age – a study in the lancet showed.
“It’s an incredible population” with radically different diets and ways of living, said the researchers.
They admit the rest of the world cannot revert to a hunter-gathering and early farming existence, but said there were lessons for all of us.
There are around 16,000 Tsimane who hunt, fish and farm on the Maniqui River in the Amazon rainforest in the Bolivian lowlands.
Their way of life has similarities to human civilisation thousands of years ago.
It took the team of scientists and doctors multiple flights and a canoe journey to get there.
- 17% of their diet is game including wild pig, tapir and capybara (the world’s largest rodent)
- 7% is freshwater fish including piranha and catfish
- Most of the rest comes from family farms growing rice, maize, manioc root (like sweet potato) and plantains (similar to banana)
- It is topped up with foraged fruit and nuts
- 72% of calories come from carbohydrates compared with 52% in the US
- 14% from fat compared with 34% in the US, Tsimane also consume much less saturated fat
- Both Americans and Tsimane have 14% of calories from protein, but Tsimane have more lean meat
The scientists looked for coronary artery calcium or “CAC” – which is a sign of clogged up blood vessels and risk of a heart attack.
The scientists scanned 705 people’s hearts in a CT scanner after teaming up with a research group scanning mummified bodies.
At the age of 45, almost no Tsimane had CAC in their arteries while 25% of Americans do.
By the time they reach age 75, two-thirds of Tsimane are CAC-free compared with the overwhelming majority of Americans (80%) having signs of CAC.
The researchers have been studying this group for a long time so it is not simply a case of the unhealthy Tsimane dying young.
Michael Gurven, a professor of anthropology at University of California, Santa Barbara, said : “It is much lower than in every other population where data exists.
Dr Gavin Sandercock, reader in clinical physiology (cardiology) at the University of Essex, said: “This is an excellent study with unique findings.
“The Tsimane get 72% of their energy from carbohydrates.
“The fact that they have the best indicators of cardiovascular health ever reported is the exact opposite to many recent suggestions that carbohydrates are unhealthy.”