Secret to Heart Disease Prevention May be Found in Amazon Tribe

Bolivia's Amazon indigenous participate during a parade as part of Bolivia's Independence Day celebrations, in Santa Cruz, August 7, 2016. Freddy Zarco/Courtesy of Bolivian Presidency/Handout via REUTERS

Members of a tribe located in the Amazon rainforest in Bolivia might have the healthiest hearts in the world. The indigenous people were discovered to have the lowest levels of artery hardening, a risk for heart disease, ever recorded, researchers said Friday.

The tribe's lifestyle was considered a factor for its healthy hearts, but critics noted that the members of the Tsimane forager-farmer community lived hand-to-mouth and shouldn't be hailed as a global model, Agence France-Presse reported. The tribe enjoys a low-fat and high-fiber diet. Members tend not to smoke and are physically active, all widely considered good indicators of health, according to medical professionals.

"The loss of subsistence diets and lifestyles could be classed as a new risk factor for vascular ageing," study co-author Hillard Kaplan of the University of New Mexico concluded. "We believe that components of this way of life could benefit contemporary sedentary populations."

The Tsimane were five times less likely to develop hardened arteries compared with people living in the United States, scientists wrote in The Lancet medical journal. The Tsimane also have lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels than most other groups.

Tribe members largely eat rice, corn, nuts, fruit, wild game and fish. They spend their days hunting, gathering, fishing and farming, the study found.

"There may not be many old Tsimane men with heart disease but that's probably because only the fittest and healthiest Tsimane survive to old age," said Gavin Sandercock, a cardiology expert from the University of Essex.

Researchers studied the hearts of 705 adults between the ages of 40 and 94 from 2014 and 2015. They found only one in 10 Tsimane people were at risk of heart disease.

In contrast, about 610,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year—about 1 in —making it the nation's top killer for both men and women, according to the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. That's true regardless of race. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for African-Americans, Hispanics and whites.