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Eating sugary foods could lead to dementia

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Why do so many of us in the West suffer from dementia or Alzheimer’s in old age?  It’s pretty much down to our lifestyle—a lack of exercise and a diet of sugary foods—as researchers have discovered after studying the brains of indigenous people.

The brains of the Tsimane people of the Bolivian Amazon are larger and have much slower brain loss than in the West.  Brain atrophy or shrinking is linked to cognitive decline and dementia.

Overall, the Tsimanes’ brains are 70 percent larger, researchers from the University of Southern California discovered when they scanned the brains of 746 Tsimanes aged between 40 and 94 and compared them to scans from people of similar ages living in the West.

Strangely, the Tismanes had high levels of inflammation, which was thought to lead to brain atrophy, and yet it doesn’t seem to affect the size of their brains.  And it doesn’t affect the health of their hearts, either.  In fact, it was their low levels of coronary atherosclerosis—where arteries harden and narrow from fat deposits—that attracted researchers in the first place.  A paper published in 2017 discovered the Tsimanes had the lowest rate of heart disease of any known population.  

Although the Tsimanes don’t have to worry about heart disease or dementia, they are more likely to die from infectious diseases.

Eat better and stay active are the take-homes from the Tsimanes—and possibly rethink our current thinking on inflammation and heart disease.

(Source: Journals of Gerontology, 2021; doi: 10.1093/Gerona/glab138)

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