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[BRAIN POWER] Tsimane people may hold key to slowing aging

The Tsimane indigenous people of the Bolivian Amazon, who have been the subject of a number of lifestyle studies by researchers in various parts of the world, experience less brain atrophy than their American and European counterparts, according to the most recent study, published in the Journal of Gerontology, Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences.

"The Tsimane have provided us with an amazing natural experiment on the potentially detrimental effects of modern lifestyles on our health," said study author Andrei Irimia of the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology and the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. "These findings suggest that brain atrophy may be slowed substantially by the same lifestyle factors associated with very low risk of heart disease."

Although people in industrialized countries have access to modern medical care, they are more sedentary and eat a diet high in saturated fats. 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 meat.

The study included 746 Tsimane adults, ages 40 to 94. The team used brain scans to calculate brain volumes and then examined their association with age. Next, they compared the results from Tsimane to those of adults in three industrialized populations in the US and Europe.

The difference in brain volumes between middle age and old age is 70% less in Tsimane than in Western populations. This suggests that the Tsimane's brains likely experience far less brain atrophy than Westerners as they age - and atrophy is correlated with risk of cognitive impairment, functional decline and dementia.

"This study demonstrates that the Tsimane stand out not only in terms of heart health, but brain health as well," study author Hillard Kaplan of Chapman University, Orange, California said. "The findings suggest ample opportunities for interventions to improve brain health."

To read the abstract, click here.


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