Amazon natives may hold key to slowing down aging

(ORDO NEWS) — The Tsimane people are unique in their healthy brains, which age more slowly.

A team of international researchers has found that the Tsimane natives of the Bolivian Amazon experience less brain atrophy than their American and European counterparts. The decrease in their brain volumes with age is 70% slower than in Western populations. Accelerated loss of brain volume may be a sign of dementia.

Although people in industrialized countries have access to modern health care, they are most likely to lead a sedentary lifestyle and eat foods high in saturated fat.

In contrast, the Tsimane have little or no access to health care, but are extremely physically active and consume a high-fiber diet that includes vegetables, fish, and lean meats.

“The Tsimane have provided us with an amazing experiment on the potentially detrimental effects of modern lifestyles on our health,” said study author Andrey Irimia, assistant professor of gerontology, neurology, and biomedical engineering at the Leonard Davis School of Gerontology and the Viterbi School of Engineering at American University.

“These results suggest that brain atrophy can be substantially slowed down by the same lifestyle factors associated with a very low risk of heart disease.”


The researchers included 746 adult Cymanes aged 40 to 94 in their study. In order to get brain CT scan results, they provided participants with transport from their remote villages to Trinidad, Bolivia, the nearest city with CT scan equipment.

Amazon natives may hold key to slowing down aging 2

The team used scans to calculate brain volumes and then looked at their association with age for Cymane. They then compared these results with those of three industrialized populations in the US and Europe.

Scientists have found that the difference in brain volume between middle and older age is 70% smaller in the Qiman than in Western populations. This suggests that the Tsimane brain likely experiences much less brain atrophy than Westerners with age; atrophy correlates with the risk of cognitive impairment, functional decline and dementia.

The researchers note that Cymanes have high levels of inflammation, which in Westerners is commonly associated with brain atrophy. But their study shows that high inflammation does not have a pronounced effect on the Cymane brain.

According to the authors of the study, Cymanes’ low cardiovascular risks may outweigh their infectious inflammatory risk, raising new questions about the causes of dementia. One possible reason is that in Westerners, inflammation is associated with obesity and metabolic causes, while in Cymanes it is caused by respiratory, gastrointestinal, and parasitic infections. Infectious diseases are the most common cause of death among the Tsimane.

“Our sedentary lifestyle and a diet rich in sugars and fats can accelerate the loss of brain tissue with age and make us more vulnerable to diseases like Alzheimer’s,” said study author Hillard Kaplan of Chapman University, who has been studying Zimane for almost two decades. “Cimane may serve as the basis for healthy brain aging.”

The indigenous people of Tsimane caught the attention of scientists and the world when an earlier study showed that they had extremely healthy hearts in old age.

This previous study, published by The Lancet in 2017, found that Cymanes have the lowest prevalence of coronary atherosclerosis of any population known to science and that they have few risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

The very low rate of heart disease among the approximately 16,000 Tsimane is most likely due to their pre-industrial lifestyle of hunting, gathering, fishing, and farming.

“This study demonstrates that cymanes stand out not only in terms of heart health, but also brain health,” Kaplan said.

“The findings suggest ample opportunity for interventions to improve brain health, even in populations with high levels of inflammation.”


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