Indigenous populations and brain-aging

Among Indigenous, rural non-industrial populations inhabiting the tropical forests of lowland Bolivia, researchers report, there appears to be an optimal balance between levels of food consumption and exercise that maximizes healthy brain aging and reduces the risk of disease.

“We hypothesize that energy gain from food intake was positively associated with late life brain health in the physically active, food-limited world of our ancestors, but that obesity and other manifestations of a Western lifestyle now lead to greater cognitive aging and dementia in middle and older ages,” said UC Santa Barbara professor of anthropology Michael Gurven, a senior co-author on a study that published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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For this paper, the researchers collaborated with the Tsimané and Mosetén tribes, two Indigenous populations that live along tributaries of the Amazon River that flow through lowland Bolivia. In comparison to urban post-industrialized populations, these groups have less reliable access to food and have to exert a lot of effort to get it. They also have less access to modern health care. Meanwhile, people in wealthy countries have largely grown accustomed to eating more and exercising less — habits that are associated with decreased brain volumes and faster cognitive decline.

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