FRIDAY, May 25, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Investigating indigenous Amazonian or African peoples who still follow a hunter-gatherer or forager-horticulturist lifestyle is giving new insights into how diet and lifestyle affect the heart as humans age.
Two new studies found that these types of hunter-gatherer or foraging peoples have lower increases in blood pressure related to their age and are less likely to have hardening of the arteries than people with more modern lifestyles.
Lifestyle factors such as high levels of physical activity and large amounts of fruits and vegetables -- and low calories -- in their diets may help protect these groups against those health problems, the researchers said.
The studies appeared online May 21 in the journal Hypertension.
One study looked at nearly 2,300 adults in 82 Tsimane villages in Bolivia's Amazon basin. Tsimane people live in the lowlands and are forager-horticulturists who live on plantains, rice, corn, manioc, fish and hunted game.
The researchers found that about 3 percent of Tsimane adults have high blood pressure, compared with 33.5 percent of U.S. adults. Worldwide, 52 other societies have blood pressures two to eight times higher than the Tsimane. Blood pressures among Americans are two to four times higher.
"The Tsimane living conditions are similar to those of our ancestors, with greater exposure to pathogens, active lifestyle, high fertility and traditional diet. Studying chronic diseases in these populations can be very insightful," study author Michael Gurven, an anthropology professor and chairman of the Integrative Anthropological Sciences Unit at the University of California-Santa Barbara, said in a journal news release.
In the second study, researchers found that the risk of hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) was about 20 percent lower in traditional hunter-gatherer Pygmies in the equatorial forests of Cameroon compared to nearby semi-urbanized Pygmies and farmers known as the Bantou.
"Our study shows that the effect of aging on atherosclerosis is blunted by a traditional lifestyle," lead author Dr. Daniel Lemogoum, a cardiologist at the Hypertension Clinic at Erasme Hospital Free University of Brussels, in Belgium, said in the release.
"By focusing our attention on people with very different lifestyles from our own, we might better be able to understand that maintaining heart health is possible even as we age," Lemogoum added.
The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has more about atherosclerosis.