South American Tribe’s Low Levels of Heart Disease

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Despite a diet heavy in meat, low levels of good cholesterol and high levels of inflammation, the Tsimane Tribe in South America has the healthiest hearts ever examined. Arizona State University professor Ben Trumbel of the School of Human Evolution and Social Change is co-director of the study and will tell us what makes Tsimane tribal members so heart-healthy.

TED SIMONS: RESEARCHERS FOUND THE HEARTS OF A SOUTH AMERICAN TRIBE ARE THE HEALTHIEST HEARTS EVER EXAMINED DESPITE CHOLESTEROL LEVELS, A DIET HEAVY IN MEAT AND HIGH LEVELS OF INFLAMMATION. PROFESSOR BEN TRUMBEL OF ASU'S SCHOOL OF HUMAN EVOLUTION AND SOCIAL CHANGE IS CO-DIRECTOR OF THE STUDY THAT LOOKED AT WHY THIS TRIBE IS SO HEART HEALTHY. GOOD TO HAVE YOU. WELCOME TO ARIZONA HORIZON.

BEN TRUMBEL: THANK YOU, PLEASURE TO BE HERE.

TED SIMONS: PROANNOUNCE THE NAME FOR ME?

BEN TRUMBEL: TSIMANE.

TED SIMONS: TSIMANE. THEY ARE WHERE IN SOUTH AMERICA?

BEN TRUMBEL: THEY ARE IN THE LOW LANDS OF BOLIVIA. BOLIVIA IS A LANDLOCKED COUNTRY IN THE AMAZON REGION OF SOUTH AMERICA.

TED SIMONS: HEALTHIEST HEARTS EVER EXAMINED?

BEN TRUMBEL: YEAH, WE THOUGHT FOR A LONG TIME THAT POPULATIONS WITH LOW LEVELS OF CHOLESTEROL, LOTS OF PHYSICAL ACTIVITY WOULD HAVE HEALTHY HEARTS BUT WE HAVE NOT BEEN ABLE TO STUDY THAT BEFORE. THIS IS THE FIRST STUDY TO SHOW IT'S TRUE.

TED SIMONS: LOWEST LEVELS OF PLAQUE EVER SEEN.

BEN TRUMBEL: CARDIOVASCULAR DISEASE IS THE NUMBER ONE KILLER IN AMERICA. YOU GET PLAQUE FORMATIONS IN THE ARTERY IN THE HEART AND IT BREAKS OFF AND FORMS A BLOOD CLOT AND YOU HAVE A HEART ATTACK.

TED SIMONS: BUT THEY'RE NOT HAVING THESE HEART ATTACKS, AT LEAST NOT HAVING THE CORONARY PLAQUE. THEY HAVE A DIET HEAVY IN MEAT, CORRECT?

BEN TRUMBEL: CORRECT.

TED SIMONS: IS THIS LEAN MEAT?

BEN TRUMBEL: YEAH. IF WE WANT MEAT, WE GET IN THE CAR, DRIVE TO A FAST-FOOD RESTAURANT AND COLLECT 2,000-CALORIES IN JUST A COUPLE OF MINUTES. BUT THEY HAVE TO GO OUT TO HUNT MEAT. THE AVERAGE HUNT IS MORE THAN EIGHT HOURS, COVERS MORE THAN 11 MILES WITH ONLY A 60% CHANCE OF SUCCESS.

TED SIMONS: SO BASICALLY WHAT YOU'RE SAYING IS THEY WORK. THEY WORK HARD AND WORKING HARD LIKE THAT MIGHT AMELIORATE THE FACTORS OF EATING MEAT. LEAN MEAT NONETHELESS.

BEN TRUMBEL: WE CAN'T SAY FOR SURE WHETHER IF IT'S DIET, PHYSICAL ACTIVITY, IMMUNE ACTIVATION. THE COMBINATION OF THE THREE MAKES THIS GROUP HEALTHY.

TED SIMONS: AND WE HAVE SOME PHOTOS OF THIS GROUP. THEY LOOK HAPPY. THEY ARE ACTIVE. THEY ARE HUNTING, FISHING, COOKING, LIVING LIFE DOWN THERE. AGAIN, I UNDERSTAND THAT THEY ARE EXERCISING. THAT'S GOOD, BUT THEIR LEVELS OF CHOLESTEROL, WHAT'S SUPPOSED TO BE LOW IS HIGH AND WHAT'S SUPPOSED TO BE HIGH IS LOW. THAT'S NOT GOOD.

BEN TRUMBEL: WE HAVE ALWAYS THOUGHT HIGH DENSITY HDL GOOD CHOLESTEROL, IF YOU HAVE LOW LEVELS OF THAT, YOU ARE AT HIGHER RISK FOR CARDIOVASCULAR DISEASE. THAT'S NOT WHAT WE FOUND HERE. THE IMPORTANT THING IS ABOUT THE INFLAMMATION. IN THE UNITED STATES, INFLAMMATION IS A LEADING RISK FACTOR OF HEART DISEASE. AMONG THE TSIMANE HALF OF THE GROUP HAS HIGH LEVELS OF INFLAMMATION.

TED SIMONS: THEY EXERCISE, HIGH INFLAMMATION LEVELS AND AN 80-YEAR-OLD FROM THIS TRIBE HAS THE HEART OF A 50-YEAR-OLD AMERICAN. WHAT IS GOING ON HERE?

BEN TRUMBEL: PART OF IT, IN RELATION TO THE INFLAMMATION, IS THE INFLAMMATION WE HAVE IN THE US, IF I HAVE HIGH INFLAMMATORY MARKERS, IT WOULD PROBABLY BE BECAUSE OF OBESITY OR SMOKING- THESE STERILE, SELF-CREATED FACTORS. WHEREAS FOR THE TSIMANE IF THEY HAVE HIGH LEVELS, IT'S FROM PARASITES OR PATHOGENS.

TED SIMONS: THERE IS A LOT OF WATER DOWN THERE. THERE IS A LOT OF OPPORTUNITY FOR THE PATHOGENS. THEY GET IN THE GUT AND TAKE THE BAD STUFF AWAY?

BEN TRUMBEL: YEAH, LOTS OF INTESTINAL PARASITES ARE EATING THE FAT OUT OF OUR INTESTINES OR PULL THEM OUT OF OUR BLOODSTREAM THROUGH OUR INTESTINES. WE GENERALLY THINK OF PARASITES AS BEING A BAD THING AND SOMETHING TO AVOID. THERE'S GOOD EVIDENCE THAT THROUGHOUT MOST OF THE HUMAN PAST THERE WERE HIGH LEVELS OF PARASITES.

TED SIMONS: THE PARASITES ARE DOING THE DIRTY WORK, GETTING RID OF STUFF THEIR BODIES DON'T HAVE TO GET RID OF, CORRECT?

BEN TRUMBEL: THAT IS PART OF IT.

TED SIMONS: BUT YOU HAVE A PARASITE IN THERE. DO THEY FEEL WELL?

BEN TRUMBEL: THERE ARE HIGH RATES OF ANEMIA AND MOST OF THE POPULATION BY US STANDARDS WOULD BE HIGHLY PARASITIZED AND WOULD NEED TREATMENT IMMEDIATELY. BUT I THINK PART OF IT IS WHAT WE THINK OF AS NORMAL HASN'T BEEN NORMAL FOR MUCH OF THE HUMAN PAST.99 PERCENT OF THE HUMAN PAST WE WERE IN SMALL BANDS OF HUNTER/GATHERERS IN A VARIETY OF DIFFERENT ENVIRONMENTS. JUST IN THE LAST 200 YEARS WE HAVE MOVED TO BIG CITIES. THAT REALLY CHANGES THINGS.

TED SIMONS: I'M TRYING TO WRAP MY HEAD AROUND THIS. IT SOUNDS AS IF-- SAY I'M WALKING AROUND PARASITIC. I'VE GOT PARASITES ALL OVER THE PLACE AND THEY'RE DOING THE DIRTY WORK. I'M NOT FEELING WELL, BUT I'M 80 YEARS OLD WITH THE HEART OF A 50-YEAR-OLD, THAT'S NOT DOING TOO POORLY. IS THIS A NEW NORMAL?

BEN TRUMBEL: THIS WAS THE NORMAL. WE ARE NOW IN AN ODD SITUATION. WE ARE THE OUTLIERS IN THESE CITIES JUST IN THE LAST TWO HUNDRED YEARS THAT HAVE POPPED UP. THAT'S NOT BEEN NORMAL FOR HUMANS THE LAST 25,000 YEARS.

TED SIMONS: THIS IS FASCINATING. THE TRIBE LIFE EXPECTANCY, WHAT ARE WE LOOKING AT OVERALL?

BEN TRUMBEL: IF YOU LIVE TO THE AGE OF 15, THE AVERAGE DEATH IS 70. SO THE AVERAGE PERSON, AS LONG AS THEY SURVIVE CHILDHOOD, THE AVERAGE AGE OF DEATH IS 70.

TED SIMONS: THAT COMPARES WITH?

BEN TRUMBEL: IN THE U.S. IT'S AROUND 84.

TED SIMONS: BUT WE HAVE MEDICAL CARE. WHEN THINGS GO WRONG, WE HAVE BETTER ACCESS.

BEN TRUMBEL: YES.

TED SIMONS: HOW DID YOU KNOW, WHEN THIS TRIBE WAS DISCOVERED OR PEOPLE FOUND THIS TRIBE, HOW LONG BEFORE THEY REALIZED, THESE FOLKS ARE IN REASONABLY GOOD HEART HEALTH?

BEN TRUMBEL: WE HAVE BEEN WORKING WITH THE TSIMANE, OUR PROJECT- IT'S A LARGE GROUP PROJECT AT A NUMBER OF INSTITUTIONS, WE HAVE BEEN WORKING WITH THEM SINCE 2002. IT WAS OBVIOUS EARLY ON, AS SOON AS WE STARTED DOING ANY KIND OF MEDICAL TESTS, ESPECIALLY BLOOD PRESSURE.

TED SIMONS: YES.

BEN TRUMBEL: SO WE'RE SEEING AMAZING BLOOD PRESSURES THAT AREN'T INCREASING VERY MUCH WITH AGE.

TED SIMONS: NOW WE HAVE BLOOD PRESSURE WORKING WELL. I'M GOING TO FIND SOME PARASITES. THAT SOUNDS LIKE THE WAY TO GO.

BEN TRUMBEL: I'M NOT SAYING THAT. WE CAN'T POINT TO ANY ONE FACTOR, JUST DIET OR JUST PHYSICAL ACTIVITY OR JUST PARASITES. I WISH THERE WAS A SILVER BULLET BUT I THINK IT'S A COMBINATION OF THE THREE.

TED SIMONS: EXERCISE, THE DIET AND AGAIN, THIS IS A DIET -- WHAT KIND OF VEGETABLES? RICH IN VEGETABLES?

BEN TRUMBEL: 72% OF THEIR CALORIES COME FROM CARBOHYDRATES THEY GROW, CORN, RICE, MANIAC ROOT.

TED SIMONS: STUFF THAT DISSOLVES SLOWLY INTO THE BLOODSTREAM.

BEN TRUMBEL: YEAH.

TED SIMONS: AS OPPOSED TO THE QUICK STUFF THAT HITS YOUR PANCREAS AND MAKES YOU GO CRAZY.

BEN TRUMBEL: AND HIGH IN FIBER.

TED SIMONS: SO THEY DO HAVE A LOT OF THAT KIND OF DIET. THEY EAT THE MEAT. I SAW IT SMOKING ON THE SPIT. THEY EAT IT, DON'T THEY?

BEN TRUMBEL: AS MUCH OF PROTEIN THEY EAT IS AS MUCH AS WE EAT. BUT THE MEAT WE EAT TENDS TO BE HIGHER IN FAT.

TED SIMONS: WHAT DO THEY TELL RESEARCHERS ABOUT THEIR HEALTH? ARE THEY LIKE US ALWAYS COMPLAINING ABOUT AN ACHE HERE AND A PAIN THERE?

BEN TRUMBEL: IF YOU LIVE AN ACTIVE LIFESTYLE CLEARING FORESTS AND HUNTING ALL DAY, YOU HAVE A LOT OF ACHES AND PAINS, SO CERTAINLY, THEY HAVE LOTS OF HEALTH IMPACTS, HIGH RATES OF TUBERCULOSIS AND PNEUMONIA.

TED SIMONS: WHAT DO WE TAKE FROM THE STUDY? THEY SEEM HAPPY, SEEM LIKE REGULAR FOLKS. WHAT DO WE TAKE FROM THIS?

BEN TRUMBEL: I THINK IT'S THE ENVIRONMENT THAT WE LIVE IN NOW IS SO DIFFERENT FROM THE ENVIRONMENT HUMANS LIVED IN MOST OF HUMAN HISTORY. WE HAVE TO UNDERSTAND THE VAST VARIATION OF POPULATION TO UNDERSTAND WHAT HEALTH HAS BEEN LIKE IN THE PAST AND WHAT WE CAN DO IN THE FUTURE.

TED SIMONS: SO DOES IT SAY ANYTHING ABOUT CHOLESTEROL? DOES IT SAY ANYTHING ABOUT CHOLESTEROL, BLOOD PRESSURE, INFLAMMATION?

BEN TRUMBEL: IF YOU HAVE HIGH LEVELS OF HIGH INFLAMMATION BUT IT COMES FROM PARASITES OR PATHOGENS, IT'S DIFFERENT FROM THE INFLAMMATION WE GET FROM OBESITY.

TED SIMONS: INTERESTING. ANY OF THESE FOLKS OVERWEIGHT?

BEN TRUMBEL: VERY LOW PERCENTAGE.

TED SIMONS: THAT COULD BE A MAJOR FACTOR THERE?

BEN TRUMBEL: YEAH, LESS THAN 10% OF THEIR DAILY ACTIVITIES IS SEDENTARY. THEY GET MORE THAN 17,000 STEPS A DAY, WHERE THE AVERAGE AMERICAN GETS AROUND 6,000.

TED SIMONS: AND THE OLDER FOLKS TOO?

BEN TRUMBEL: YES. BECAUSE IF YOU CAN'T GO TO THE GROCERY STORE, YOU HAVE TO GO OUT HUNTING, GROWING CROPS, FISHING IF YOU WANT TO EAT.

TED SIMONS: GRANDPA AND GRANDMA GOT TO GO FIND FOOD TOO. FASCINATING STUDY, THIS IS REALLY INTERESTING. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR JOINING US.

BEN TRUMBEL: THANK YOU.

TED SIMONS: THURSDAY, ON "ARIZONA HORIZON," A LOCAL POLICE UNION TALKS ABOUT MANPOWER SHORTAGES AT THE PHOENIX POLICE DEPARTMENT AND WE HEAR ABOUT THE PLANNED EXPLORATION OF A NEARBY ASTEROID AT 5:30 AND 10:00 ON THE NEXT, "ARIZONA HORIZON." THAT'S IT FOR NOW. I'M TED SIMONS. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR JOINING US. YOU HAVE A GREAT EVENING.

Ben Trumbel: Arizona State University professor

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