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Non-state, or stateless societies were the norm in the past, and then with the rise of
agricultural practices we got together and formed societies and started to cooperate
in larger groups than our tribe.
And so began our civilization process, but also with it, despotic leaders, human rights
abuses and sometimes brutal laws.
Homo-sapiens, once mostly nomadic hunter-gatherers, banded together and created towns and cities
and sometimes ineluctable hierarchies.
This “Neolithic Revolution” made us more sedentary, perhaps less prone to violence
(that’s a hot-potato of a question) and it had a huge impact on our health.
But how do we in our cities compare to ‘wild’ people still living in tribes?
Today we’ll explore this comparison, in this episode of the Infographics Show, Why
is this tribe so far from civilization so healthy?
First of all, we are going to focus on one tribe as that’s where a lot of recent research
has been done.
We are by no means saying that being tribal means having great health or that this one
group of people and their health mirrors tribal societies in say the Arctic, Amazon rainforest
or the Sahara Desert.
The Bushmen of southern Africa lead a very different lifestyle from the most remote hilltribes
of northern Thailand.
Interestingly, though, you can find reports of Kalahari Bushmen saying when modern life
encroached onto their lifestyle the price to pay was high – disease, booze and too
many babies to young mothers, writes the BBC.
The hilltribes of Thailand have also been tested by modern consumerism, rife alcoholism
and methamphetamine abuse.
But let’s put that aside for now and go across the world to Bolivia.
A BBC article in 2017 said, “The healthiest hearts in the world have been found in the
Tsimane (chee-may-nay) people in the forests of Bolivia.”
So who are the Tsimane people?
The BBC says they number around 16,000, but other reports say the population is much smaller
than that at around 2000-6000.
They can be found in lowland Bolivia, and live for the most part by subsistence farming.
This means basically self-sufficiency farming in which you produce enough for you and your
family or group to eat and don’t create enough for trade.
The Tsimane also hunt and go fishing for their meals.
In recent years some of the Tsimane have been farming and selling what they grew and also
They speak Tsimane, which is what we call a language isolate.
This means it doesn’t come from other languages.
But what’s interesting to us is their good health.
Let’s have a look at that.
If we look at western countries we can see that heart disease is often the number one
In the USA the Center for Disease Control and Prevention puts it at the top just above
The third spot, and way behind, was accidents.
We don’t need to tell you that heart disease, despite sometimes just running in the family,
can often be prevented or stalled by having a healthier diet, doing a bit of exercise
and perhaps going easy on the cigarettes and the 14-hour shifts with 30-minute lunch breaks
Scientists wanted to find out just how much we might prevent this killer disease by changing
To do this they did the right thing and looked at heart disease rates in the USA, looked
at the lifestyle of many people in that country, and then compared it to heart disease and
lifestyle in the Tsimane groups.
The introduction in the paper published by The Lancet said, “To better understand the
association between the pre-industrial lifestyle and low prevalence of coronary artery disease
risk factors, we examined the Tsimane, a Bolivian population living a subsistence lifestyle
of hunting, gathering, fishing, and farming with few cardiovascular risk factors, but
high infectious inflammatory burden.”
What did the researchers find out?
Well, after they took a number of flights and even travelled by canoe to get to the
Amazon they found that the Tsimane lifestyle was indeed very different from your average
American, Brit, Frenchman or Canadian.
They found that 17 percent of the Tsimane diet was wild game.
This is a lot of meat.
That mostly consisted of wild pig, tapir (looks like a cross between a pig and baby elephant)
and capybara (kinda like a giant Guinea pig).
They were also partial to fish – about 7 percent of their diet – that came in form
of catfish and piranha.
To fill up, they ate rice, maize, something similar to sweet potato and they also liked
plantains (not so different from bananas).
They also foraged and ate nuts and lots of fruit.
The scientists said that all in all about 72 percent of their calories came from carbohydrates,
which is more than in the U.S. at about 52 percent.
Fats made up 14 percent of their diet, compared to 34 percent in the U.S.
The scientists added that people in the U.S. ate way more saturated fat.
They weren’t much different from people in the U.S. in one respect and that was that
both get about 14 percent of their calories from protein, although the researchers said
the Tsimane ate more lean meat.
What about burning those calories?
Well, this is where folks in the U.S. were very different.
Have you been counting your steps using an app?
If so, even if you move a lot in the day 10,000 steps isn’t bad at all.
But the Tsimane were averaging 17,000 (men) and 16,000 (women) every day.
Even the people aged over 60 were getting in an average of 15,000 steps a day.
How does all this affect their health?
The scientists looked at something called coronary artery calcium (CAC).
If you have a lot of it, you are on your way to heart problems; you have clogged-up arteries.
At the age of 45 the Tsimane had pretty much no CAC at all.
Americans on the other hand at that age do, about 25 percent of people in total.
When Americans reach 75, 80 percent of them will have CAC.
Only one third of the Tsimane will.
No where on Earth have researchers found people with such good tickers.
A professor of anthropology at the University of California said that Japanese women were
good, but this is a whole new ballpark.
The conclusion is that your average Tsimane person has the vascular health of an American
50-year old when they are 80.
We should add that the Tsimane run the risk of easily contracting infectious diseases
and don’t have the healthcare most westerners do.
It’s not some kind of health utopia in the Tsimane, but we can learn a lot from them.
Nonetheless, it was revealed, “Two thirds of them suffer intestinal worms and they have
a very hard life, without fresh water, sewerage or electricity,” according to one researcher.
They have good hearts, but it doesn’t mean they don’t face other problems.
How do we get the hearts of the Tsimane?
It’s quite simple.
Don’t stuff yourself with saturated fats and sugars.
Keep your blood sugar, your LDL cholesterol, your blood pressure, low.
Maybe even more importantly, try to move around a bit and not just during the weekend.
Studies show that in industrialized nations the average person might sit for 54 percent
of the day.
The Tsimane spent about 10 percent of the day sedentary.
But lo and behold, something similar is happening to the Tsimane as has been happening to other
tribal people we talked about at the start of the show.
Modernity is encroaching into their lifestyle and they have started buying sugary goods
and cooking oils at markets.
We are told their cholesterol levels are getting worse.
However, Professor Naveed Sattar, from the University of Glasgow, called the study beautiful.
He told the BBC, “Simply put, eating a healthy diet very low in saturated fat and full of
unprocessed products, not smoking and being active life long, is associated with the lowest
risk of having furring up of blood vessels.”
Researchers said while our jobs make it hard for us to move about a lot, that’s what
we should try to do, whether walking to work or cycling to work.
That’s not always easy in the depth of winter during a bitterly cold, unforgiving December.
Well, try to stand more at work, say the researchers.
Another doctor said this about the Tsimane, “They also live in small communities, life
is very social, and they maintain a positive outlook.”
This could be more important than you think.
You might remember reports about the inhabitants of Roseto, Pennsylvania.
Researchers who went there in the 1960s found that people didn’t exactly have the greatest
diet; they also smoked, they drank (a lot) and yet they were much healthier on average
than their compatriots.
Scientists, as is written in the book Sapiens, were stumped.
The people of the town, just about all of Italian descent, smoked really strong cigars,
drank with abandon, ate what they wanted, and yet they outlived other Americans on average.
Heart disease rates were much lower than neighboring towns.
Many of the men also worked hard in nearby slate quarries and when they got home it’s
said they ate a fatty diet full of cholesterol.
Lots of cheese, lots of salami, lots of fried sausages.
The Huffington Post wrote in 2008, “Wine was consumed in preference to all-American
soft drinks and even milk.”
Hmm, is becoming a wino, a sausage addict and chain-smoker the answer to all our health
Is a bottle of Bordeaux and a stodgy cigar the panacea for that premature knock on the
door by the Grim Reaper?
Not quite so, unfortunately.
This is what the researchers concluded when trying to figure out why these folks lived
longer and suffered less heart disease than fellow Americans:They were happier.
The Rosetans lived in a very tightly-knit community.
They were never alone, they ate together, they drank wine together, they look after
“No one seemed too unhappy or too stressed out,” wrote The Huffington Post.
“And the proof was a heart attack death rate almost half of everyone else around them.”
Three families might live in one house.
The old folks were not sent away to drizzle out their last years within the confines of
some deathly care home.
Like the Tsimane, they were very social and took care of their community.
Unfortunately, as time went by, this all changed, and the people of Roseto started to live like
The American Journal of Public Health investigated the town in 1992, more than 30 years after
the initial reports and researchers said the average Rosettan had become “Americanized”.
The sense of community was gone, and so was the good health.
They were stressed, they were sometimes lonely, and the “Roseto Effect” was no longer
Perhaps if we deal with our stress and maintain our close relationships, if we have fun as
often as we can and nurture love around us, it can impact our health in a positive way
as it did according to those scientists for the Rosetans.
Maybe we can take a leaf out of the Tsimane book of life and move around a lot more, eating
largely non-processed foods.
Maybe then we will live healthier and longer lives.
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Do you believe this to be true?
Do you feel like your neighborhood has a sense of community?
Let us know in the comments.
Also, be sure to check out our other video The Cannibal Island.
Thanks for watching, and as always, please don’t forget to like, share and subscribe.
See you next time.