Epidemiological data for the Tsimane and Moseten populations in Bolivia shows that they suffer very little cardiovascular disease in later life, despite a presumably greater lifetime burden of infectious disease (and consequent inflammation) than is the case for people in wealthier regions. The differences in lifestyle are fairly straightforward: a much greater level of physical activity throughout life, and a diet that is high in fiber and low in all of the terrible things, like processed sugars, that people in the wealthier regions of the world tend to consume these days.
Atrial fibrillation is the most common arrhythmia in post-industrialized populations. Older age, hypertension, obesity, chronic inflammation, and diabetes are significant atrial fibrillation risk factors, suggesting that modern urban environments may promote atrial fibrillation. Here we assess atrial fibrillation prevalence and incidence among tropical horticulturalists of the Bolivian Amazon with high levels of physical activity, a lean diet, and minimal coronary atherosclerosis, but also high infectious disease burden and associated inflammation.
Between 2005-2019, 1314 Tsimane aged 40-94 years (52% female) and 534 Moseten Amerindians aged 40-89 years (50% female) underwent resting 12-lead electrocardiograms to assess atrial fibrillation prevalence. For atrial fibrillation incidence assessment, 1059 (81% of original sample) Tsimane and 310 Moseten (58%) underwent additional electrocardiograms. Only one (male) of 1314 Tsimane (0.076%) and one (male) of 534 Moseten (0.187%) demonstrated atrial fibrillation at baseline. There was one new (female) Tsimane case in 7395 risk years for the 1059 participants with greater than 1 electrocardiogram (incidence rate = 0.14 per 1,000 risk years). No new cases were detected among Moseten, based on 542 risk years.
Tsimane and Moseten show the lowest levels of atrial fibrillation ever reported, 1/20 to ~1/6 of rates in high-income countries. These findings provide additional evidence that a subsistence lifestyle with high levels of physical activity, and a diet low in processed carbohydrates and fat is cardioprotective, despite frequent infection-induced inflammation. Findings suggest that atrial fibrillation is a modifiable lifestyle disease rather than an inevitable feature of cardiovascular aging.