#351 The 4 Secrets Why the Tsimane People Don’t Get Heart Disease, AFib, or Dementia

The 4 Secrets Why the Tsimane People Don’t Get Heart Disease, AFib, or Dementia

Tucked away in the secluded corners of the Bolivian Amazon, there’s a community that’s a source of fascination for researchers and health enthusiasts—the Tsimane people. Surrounded by the rich and diverse Amazon rainforest, the Tsimane live a life far removed from the advancements of modern society. Across generations, they’ve thrived by relying on the resources of the land while upholding a distinct social structure that greatly contributes to their exceptional health and overall well-being. In this article, we’ll delve into the four secrets as to why the Tsimane people don’t get heart disease, atrial fibrillation, or dementia.

Life in a Tsimane Village

In the villages lining the Amazon River in Bolivia, you’ll find about 16,000 Tsimane people. Their homes are built using natural materials such as wood, palm leaves, and thatch. What’s striking about their community is how closely-knit it is, fostering a strong sense of shared responsibility and support among its members.

The Tsimane way of life revolves around sustaining themselves from the land. They hunt, fish, and farm to meet their daily needs. Hunting provides meat, while fishing adds fish to their diet. Their farming includes growing crops like plantains, maize, and manioc. They also gather wild fruits, nuts, and other edible plants from the forest, which are crucial parts of what they eat.

Living in Tsimane villages means living with limited access to modern conveniences like electricity, running water, or high-tech gadgets. Their lifestyle is far removed from the complexities of the modern world.

Their community’s structure is based on family ties and social connections. Decisions are often made by reaching a consensus within the community, and the elders are highly respected for their wisdom and experience.

The Tsimane Don’t Get Heart Disease Study

For many years, Dr. Hillard Kaplan and his team from the National Institute on Aging and St. Luke’s Hospital of Kansas City have been amazed by the Tsimane people living deep in the Amazon jungle. These indigenous folks show an incredible resistance to heart disease. Recently, the results of their extensive research have grabbed global attention in the media.

The research team dived into a thorough study, visiting 85 Tsimane villages to closely check how common heart disease was among this community. They used CT scans on every adult Tsimane they could find for the study, a total of 705 participants. These scans were super important in looking at heart health, checking things like coronary artery calcification, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and signs of inflammation linked to heart disease.

For those not familiar with medical tests, a CT scan that looks at coronary artery calcification is a powerful way to find blockages or heart problems. And as we know, how we live greatly impacts whether we might get clogged arteries. Plus, the level of artery hardening often connects to how long a person might live. And if you’re interested in what you own coronary calcium score might be, for a fee of just $69, you can undergo this test at our hospital.

The research revealed something amazing: out of the 705 Tsimane adults studied, a huge 85% had no signs of any heart artery plaque. This gave them a perfect score of zero on this test, showing their hearts were in great shape. What’s even more incredible is that 65% of Tsimane folks over 75 years old had no heart plaque at all.

To put this in perspective, nearly all people over 75 in the United States have some heart artery plaque. What the Tsimane people showed in this study about their low heart disease risk is unlike anything seen before, showing just how resistant they are to heart issues compared to most people in the world.

Even though the Tsimane people face a lot of inflammation from dealing with many infections, they have the least amount of heart disease ever recorded compared to any other group. This study tells us that most people can prevent heart artery problems by having low cholesterol, keeping their blood pressure and sugar levels low, having a healthy weight, not smoking, and staying physically active throughout their lives.

The Tsimane Don’t Get Atrial Fibrillation Study

In this Tsimane Afib study spanning from 2005 to 2019, researchers examined the occurrence of atrial fibrillation, a common heart rhythm issue, among the Tsimane. The objective was to understand how prevalent this heart condition was in these communities characterized by an active lifestyle, a lean diet, and low levels of heart disease, while also facing a high burden of infectious diseases and resulting inflammation.

The study involved 1314 Tsimane individuals aged between 40 to 94. Electrocardiograms (ECGs) were conducted to check for atrial fibrillation. Later, a subset of the participants underwent additional ECGs to assess the incidence of new cases.

Remarkably, at the study’s beginning, only one Tsimane man showed signs of atrial fibrillation, marking a very low percentage among the total population. Over the follow-up period, only one new case was identified among the Tsimane in over 7000 patient years of observation.

The findings were astounding—this indigenous group displayed significantly lower rates of atrial fibrillation compared to high-income countries, suggesting that their lifestyle, heavily focused on physical activity and a diet low in processed foods, contributed to protecting their hearts from AFib. Despite facing frequent infections and associated inflammation, the results imply that lifestyle factors have a significant impact on heart health, indicating that atrial fibrillation might not be an inevitable consequence of cardiovascular aging but rather a disease influenced by one’s way of life.

The Tsimane Don’t Get Dementia Study

In a study looking at memory problems in the Tsimane people, researchers checked 435 individuals over 60 years old using memory tests and brain scans. They found five cases of dementia among the Tsimane, which was very low—just 1.2% of the group. This number is much lower than almost anywhere else in the world.

Surprisingly, even though the Tsimane have a high chance getting the Alzheimer’s gene (ApoE4), they still have some of the lowest levels of dementia worldwide. This indicates that their way of life—hunting, gathering wild foods, staying active, and having strong social bonds—not only helps protect them from heart disease and atrial fibrillation but also seems to shield them from memory problems like dementia.

The 4 Secrets Why the Tsimane People Don’t Get Heart Disease, AFib, or Dementia

Why don’t the Tsimane people suffer from heart disease, AFib, or dementia? It’s not because they have super-human genes. Instead, it’s their way of life. Many studies show that no matter what genes you were dealt in this life, a healthy lifestyle can silence most of your bad genes.

1. Eat Plant-Based Natural Foods with Wild Meats

The Tsimane people eat natural, unprocessed foods like wild meats, lots of plants, fruits, veggies, nuts, and seeds. Everything they eat comes straight from nature, without any processing.

To adopt the Tsimane diet into our modern American lives, we can focus on eating whole, unprocessed foods. This means choosing lean wild or organic meats and adding more fruits and veggies to our meals. Snacking on nuts and seeds can give us important nutrients. By reducing processed foods and going for natural choices like the Tsimane, we can improve our overall health in our everyday American lifestyle.

2. Never Stop Moving

The Tsimane don’t spend their time sitting in front of screens or hitting the gym for exercise. Instead, they’re naturally active all day long.

Tsimane men walk around 17,000 steps every day, while Tsimane women take about 16,000 steps each day. Even as they get older, those over 60 still manage more than 15,000 steps daily.

But the Tsimane don’t achieve these impressive step counts by strolling around their neighborhoods or on a walking track. Their steps come from hunting, foraging, fishing, and farming. Men typically spend around 6-7 hours each day on these activities, while women usually dedicate 4-6 hours to the same.

3. Always Stay Socially Connected

This study overlooked an important aspect: the deeply interconnected lives of the Tsimane. When they weren’t hunting or gathering food, the Tsimane spent their time with friends, family, or neighbors.

The Tsimane have a tradition of daily visits to their friends’ and neighbors’ homes, both in the mornings and evenings. Sometimes, these visits lasted for weeks or even months, with one Tsimane family staying with another.

Without computers or TVs, the Tsimane had to spend time talking and sharing stories with each other every day. Despite not having many possessions, their close-knit social life led to high reported levels of happiness. Additionally, despite facing the stress of potential food shortages, their strong social connections kept their stress levels much lower than those in modern societies. Everyone in these villages knew about each other, creating a tight-knit community.

4. Live a More Unplugged Life

The Tsimane live an “unplugged” life in their villages, mostly without electricity. This means they’re not constantly on phones, checking social media, or keeping up with the news. Instead, their focus is on genuine connections with one another. This raises a question: could this be why they experience such low levels of stress?

It makes us wonder if our modern reliance on technology and constant news exposure might contribute to our stress and unhappiness. While we might not need to entirely embrace a technology-free lifestyle like the Amish, there might be something to learn from the Tsimane. Taking a day each week to unplug, setting the phone aside, turning off the TV, and even taking breaks from news consumption could potentially improve our well-being.


The information provided in this article is for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking it because of information presented in this article. Reliance on any information provided in this article is solely at your own risk.

Disclaimer Policy: This website is intended to give general information and does not provide medical advice. This website does not create a doctor-patient relationship between you and Dr. John Day. If you have a medical problem, immediately contact your healthcare provider. Information on this website is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition. Dr. John Day is not responsible for any losses, damages or claims that may result from your medical decisions.

  1. Whoa! Turn off the TV? I don’t know if I could do that. 🙁

    I do take all your other suggestions very seriously. Only 1 or 2 afib minor incidents this year. I am 72 years old and I try to get in 15,000 steps a day (with the TV on 🙁

  2. Thanks for all you do John it’s very amazing . Thanks for bringing up the Tsimane. I don’t believe they get enough attention. I use them as role models for my lifestyle to prevent modern lifestyle illness especially CAD and prostate disease. It’s amazing how their hearts and prostates are stable over their lifetime yet ours are not. How to maintain their lifestyle in the modern world? It’s interesting that their LDls are 70-90 yet our cardiology community believes that lower is better. I’m not sure why. I guess for secondary prevention I can see a reason.

    Thanks, Tom