Inflammation and infection do not promote arterial aging and cardiovascular disease risk factors among lean horticulturalists.
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BACKGROUND: Arterial aging is well characterized in industrial populations, but scantly described in populations with little access to modern medicine. Here we characterize health and aging among the Tsimane, Amazonian forager-horticulturalists with short life expectancy, high infectious loads and inflammation, but low adiposity and robust physical fitness. Inflammation has been implicated in all stages of arterial aging, atherogenesis and hypertension, and so we test whether greater inflammation associates with atherosclerosis and CVD risk. In contrast, moderate to vigorous daily activity, minimal obesity, and low fat intake predict minimal CVD risk among older Tsimane. METHODS AND FINDINGS: Peripheral arterial disease (PAD), based on the Ankle-Brachial Index (ABI), and hypertension were measured in Tsimane adults, and compared with rates from industrialized populations. No cases of PAD were found among Tsimane and hypertension was comparatively low (prevalence: 3.5%, 40+; 23%, 70+). Markers of infection and inflammation were much higher among Tsimane than among U.S. adults, whereas HDL was substantially lower. Regression models examine associations of ABI and BP with biomarkers of energy balance and metabolism and of inflammation and infection. Among Tsimane, obesity, blood lipids, and disease history were not significantly associated with ABI. Unlike the Tsimane case, higher cholesterol, C-reactive protein, leukocytes, cigarette smoking and systolic pressure among North Americans are all significantly associated with lower ABI. CONCLUSIONS: Inflammation may not always be a risk factor for arterial degeneration and CVD, but instead may be offset by other factors: healthy metabolism, active lifestyle, favorable body mass, lean diet, low blood lipids and cardiorespiratory health. Other possibilities, including genetic susceptibility and the role of helminth infections, are discussed. The absence of PAD and CVD among Tsimane parallels anecdotal reports from other small-scale subsistence populations and suggests that chronic vascular disease had little impact on adult mortality throughout most of human evolutionary history.