This week, on a tributary of the Amazon River deep in the jungle of Bolivia, we end our trek around the globe examining those places where people live longer and healthier. Here lives a group of approximately 16,000 indigenous people known as the Tsimane. They walk, ride bikes or canoe everywhere. Their staple foods are homegrown rice, plantains and corn. They have no electricity or running water. They catch whatever meat they eat. If they want meat, the average hunt for dinner lasts eight hours and covers 11 miles.
According to researchers from Arizona State University, they have the lowest reported levels of coronary artery disease of any population ever recorded. According to an NBC News report, an 80-year-old Tsimane has about the same heart and artery health as the average American in his or her 50s.
The Tsimane have been studied periodically since 2002 running scans of their arteries, testing their blood for cholesterol and glucose and measuring blood pressure. Researchers looked specifically for calcium in the blood vessels, a signal that artery-clogging fat has built up and hardened. These plaques can break off and cause heart attacks and strokes. Nearly all those studied had no evidence of calcification at all in their arteries and those who did had very little.
Cancer and heart disease are the two leading causes of death in the U.S. With a constant and alarming rise in the number of people affected by chronic diseases such as coronary artery disease, preventive healthcare is gaining a lot of momentum across the globe as a priority. What researchers are now trying to accomplish with their study of the Tsimane is to isolate various factors to see if they can find things people in the industrialized world can mimic to lower their risk of heart disease. That quest is hastened by the fact that more than 318,000 deaths a year are due to heart disease, stroke and diabetes; diseases linked to unhealthy eating habits.
More than half of the average American's diet comes from highly processed foods full of added sugar and fat. The link to heart disease and highly processed food cannot be stressed enough. The Tsimane are not immune to this influence on their diet even living in a remote and undeveloped areas. Logging roads and motorized canoes have made these foods more accessible to outsiders. Long-term changes to their diet are a concern. Over the last 10 years, researchers have seen increases in their LDL levels, more commonly known as "bad cholesterol."
"What I would learn from [the Tsimane] is that my risk of heart disease is largely determined by what I do, not what I am," Dr. Tim Chico, a cardiologist at Britain's University of Sheffield not involved in the study tells NBC News. "I can greatly reduce my risk of developing a heart attack if I am regularly active, if I eat a diet rich in vegetables and low in processed foods, maintain a healthy weight, and don't smoke."
Many healthcare practitioners have come to believe that preventing deaths through promoting healthy eating is an urgent priority. This focus on diet is partly due to the disappointing lack of new drugs to fight or prevent Alzheimer's disease, and a shift within the scientific and the medical communities toward preventative alternatives. According to a study, researchers at the University of California, San Francisco have firmly linked diet to Alzheimer's disease. The study provides compelling evidence that a person can protect their brain by watching what they eat and also found that the positive effects of better nutrition are measurable even if diet is improved only slightly.
These recommendations are underscored by a recent unrelated study out of Boston University found that the use of the low-calorie sweetener aspartame makes diet soda far worse for your health than drinking regular soda sweetened with sugar. The results showed that adults who had one or more diet drinks a day were 2.9 times more likely to develop dementia and three times more at risk of strokes compared to those who avoided diet soda. Researchers believe the artificial sweeteners including aspartame and saccharine could be affecting the blood vessels, eventually triggering strokes and dementia.
Researchers at Tufts University recently developed a model using national data on dietary habits and mortality to estimate how many deaths in the United States can be linked to poor nutrition. This enabled them to estimate deaths linked to poor dietary habits for the entire population, as well as by age, sex, race and education. It was estimated that nearly half of all deaths from heart disease, stroke and diabetes were linked to poor diet.
Not surprisingly, it also showed that Americans are not eating enough fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, whole grains, vegetable oils or fish. Americans are overeating salt, processed meats and sweetened beverages. Their findings also suggest that salt is a key contributor to bad health. Overeating salt was linked to more deaths than any other food or nutrients studied.
According to Renata Micha, an assistant research professor at Tufts and lead author on the paper, the study further verifies that eating healthy can prevent people from dying from premature heart disease, stroke and diabetes. It also shows that people can begin to have healthier and better lives if they will just start by making one healthier choice each day and then build on it. The study results were recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Write to Chuck Norris ([email protected]) with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook's "Official Chuck Norris Page." He blogs at http://chucknorrisnews.blogspot.com. To find out more about Chuck Norris and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.