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Under the microscope: The Tsimané

This month: The Tsimané

So, what is the Tsimané?

It’s not what, it’s who – the Tsimané are indigenous people of the Bolivian Amazon.

OK, give me some background.

They primarily have a subsistence agriculture culture, live in small communities of 20 to 30 families and the average woman has nine children in her lifetime.

Have they been in the news for their high fertility rate?

No, but if the Tsimané comprised a country, they’d be top of the table (Niger has the highest fertility rate at present, with almost seven children per woman).

So what have they been in the news for?

A team of international researchers has found that they experience less brain atrophy than their American and European peers.

How much less?

The decrease in their brain volumes with age is 70% slower than in Western populations, they report.

Then what did the scientists do?

They used the brain scans of 746 Tsimané adults, aged 40 to 94, to calculate brain volumes and then examined their association with age for Tsimané. Next, they compared these results to those in three industrialised populations in the US and Europe.

Why do the Tsimané experience less brain atrophy?

We don’t know for certain, but they are extremely physically active and consume a high-fibre diet that includes vegetables, fish and lean meat.

Where can I read more?

If you go online you can read their full paper

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