Health & Wellbeing

Isolated Amazon tribes reveal clue to source of high blood pressure in the West

Isolated Amazon tribes reveal ...
The isolated tribe showed no increase in blood pressure as they age, compared to a nearby tribe with a more Western-influenced diet
The isolated tribe showed no increase in blood pressure as they age, compared to a nearby tribe with a more Western-influenced diet
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The isolated tribe showed no increase in blood pressure as they age, compared to a nearby tribe with a more Western-influenced diet
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The isolated tribe showed no increase in blood pressure as they age, compared to a nearby tribe with a more Western-influenced diet

A study of two isolated South American tribes has shed light on the influence of diet in the onset of hypertension, upending the common consensus that higher blood pressure is a direct, and inevitable, consequence of aging.

The fascinating research focused on two remote tribes living around the border of Brazil and Venezuela – the Yanomami and the Yekwana. The Yanomami tribe has proved particularly compelling to scientific researchers as several decades of study has revealed they have significantly low blood pressure levels, which do not seem to rise as they age.

The new study set out to examine the blood pressure of Yanomami subjects in comparison to a nearby tribe called the Yekwana. The big difference between the two tribes is that while the Yanomami have been able to remain significantly isolated with little exposure to Western influences, the Yekwana have been much more exposed to Western diets and lifestyles since the construction of an airstrip in the middle of their territory in 1969, which introduced trading and foreign food to their communities.

Over 70 Yanomami tribe members, aged from one to 60, revealed remarkably stable low blood pressure readings, with no trend towards a blood pressure increase as they aged. However, the nearby Yekwana tribe displayed a statistically clear trend of rising blood pressure as they aged, displaying systolic measurements on average 15 mm higher than their Yanomami counterparts by the age of 50.

"This age-related rise in blood pressure begins in early childhood – which suggests that early childhood may be a 'window of opportunity' for lifestyle interventions to prevent later rises in blood pressure," says Noel Mueller, one of the researchers on the project.

While the study inevitably has several limitations, including a relatively small sample set, the unique opportunity to compare two distinct tribal populations in similar geographical locations allows for relatively solid conclusions to be made about the influence of a Western diet on certain health factors.

"The idea that rising blood pressure is a result of aging is a widely held belief in cardiology, but our findings add to evidence that rising blood pressure may be an avoidable consequence of Western diet and lifestyle rather than aging itself," explains Mueller.

The next step for the researchers is to turn their sights on the two tribes' gut bacteria. Examining the differences between their microbiomes will hopefully elucidate whether differences in gut microbiota can account for the variations in the age-related blood pressure readings between the two tribes.

The new study was published in the journal JAMA Cardiology.

Source: Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

7 comments
lee39
This article left me feeling a bit information empty. The western diet and lifestyle? is the cause? Is there anything specific worth mentioning there? Do all hunter gatherer societies enjoy low blood pressure? Please explain a bit further.
andy68
This has long been the opinion amongst alternative medicine practitioners, especially naturopaths. Much of what are considered inevitable conditions of aging, are accumulations of disease arising from long exposure to adverse conditions, including diet.
Jose Gros
Yes, around 1976, the acceptable Systolic Blood Pressure for elderly was considered 100 mm Hg, plus the age in years, so, for an octogenarian, 180 mm Hg. This is a brutal Hypertension, a Risk Factor for Stroke, Heart Attacks, Dementia, this 'medical superstition' was abandoned in the 80s. Today, limits for SBP and DBP are 135 and 80 mm Hg
GregVoevodsky
What about weight, diet and stress? Sadly, this article is lacking in everything but click bait. Why is it a surprise that a tribal community that exercises to survive, to catch game, and survives like hunter gathers for thousands of years does better than fat, nonexercising mankind with processed food? We really need a common-sense study on this, really?
Veronica Roach
And now I realize that EVERYONE is expected to suffer from certain things & the 'experts' are all gung-ho to prescribe their favorite drugs for said expectation. When I was getting advice for having swallowed a foreign object, they got quite upset with me that I did not normally have heartburn - insisted that the problem I had was 'just heartburn' & wanted to prescribe drugs, when I knew I had swallowed a small piece of plastic ! Eventually I had no more issues, plastic likely dissolved away, and I do not get heartburn ! Now the reason for -that- is that I take a tsp of Apple Cider vinegar with 'mother' bacteria, on a daily basis, and since I have done that I do not get heartburn - but they would not listen to me, I guess I'm just another 'silly old bird' ! The answer is that good bacteria get bumped off by the foods we eat containing -multiple chemicals-..... so eat organic & try the vinegar cure !!!!! Those tribes with no health issues are healthy for the same reasons - keep away from packaged food 'products' for good health !
Jean Lamb
I have salt-related high blood pressure on both sides of the family. I have salt from the shaker twice a year (Thanksgiving and Christmas) but have to watch any processed food because most of it has tons (even the Weight Watchers and Lean Cuisine frozen dinners have boatloads of it).
alan c
So - what do the Yanomani eat? And to what age on average do they live?