Friday Apr 28 | BY |
| Comments (1)

indigenous people

My first encounter with healthy older adults was in Alaska. The winters are long in the Bering Sea just below the Arctic Circle. During the darkest time, the sun barely rises above the horizon and only for a short period. But in the spring, even though it is still below freezing all of the time, the light is longer. April and May are the months when native people head out for long walks.

I began my ethnomedical fieldwork on Saint Lawrence Island where I lived a winter among the Yupik (Siberian Eskimo) in 1967-68. One of my contacts was a man of 84. I met with him almost daily, except when we were hunting away from the village. I found Uvaq wise with a practical earth-based spirituality, clear mind, and robust character.

As spring came, the days became lighter. By mid-April, daylight lengthened. Sunrise was about 7:00 AM and didn’t set until near midnight.

One morning of brilliant sunlight sparkling across the snowfields, and below zero temperatures, I went in search of Uvaq. He wasn’t home. His eldest daughter told me he went for a walk.

“A walk!” I cried. “In this cold?”

“Oh,” she said. “We think nothing of it. The days are longer now. And, he is a great walker.”

His daughter pointed in the direction where he went walking. I saw nothing but snow. Then, I picked out a dark speck slowly moving across and expanse of white. Uvaq!

Two decades later, I worked among the Zapotec in Oaxaca, Mexico. And since 1996, I lived with Peruvian indigenous people, mainly the Q’ero in the Andes, but also Shipibo of the upper Amazon.

I found the same among each traditional group. Though they live no longer than all humans, they are healthier longer. No one is obese. There is no diabetes. There is no heart disease, and no one dies of a heart attack or has a stroke.

As long as native people maintain their traditional lifestyle and diet, they live healthy lives between 95 and 105 years.

A recent study in the prestigious British journal, The Lancet, confirms my fieldwork observation.

The authors of this paper describe the traditional native way of life the “pre-industrial lifestyle” of subsistence living. I find this term confusing because Europeans and Americans existed before the modern era. However, what the researchers found was remarkable.

The Tsimane, an indigenous group in the Bolivian rainforest, has few cardiovascular risk factors. This research is the first study of its kind noted for the use of high-tech diagnostic equipment like CT coronary artery calcium scanning (CAC score). Nearly all of the 705 individuals studied had no blockage in their arteries. For those over 75 years, 65% had CAC score of 0 – no evidence at all of calcium buildup.

Cholesterol and LDL levels of Tsimane individuals were within optimal ranges. There was almost no obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and no one smoked cigarettes. Yet, some unexpected findings appeared in their blood tests. Many Tsimane had high C- reactive protein levels, a commonly used clinical marker of inflammation associated with increased risk for heart disease.

The results of this study confirm what we already know. Diet and lifestyle matter. Regular exercise, walking a lot, a natural plant-based diet without chemical additives, and avoiding cigarette smoking; these factors matter.

I think I’ll take another look at the Paleo Diet. But, it’s not just diet. Rest matters. The Tsimane hang out a lot in their village. They know how to relax. They have traditional tribal values. Mutual support and cooperation factor high.

Perhaps, if we lived more like traditional natives we too would be healthier longer.

Dr. J. E. Williams


Dr. Williams is a pioneer in integrative and functional medicine, the author of six books, and a practicing clinician with over 100,000 patient visits. His areas of interest include longevity and viral immunity. Formerly from San Diego, he now resides in Sarasota, Florida and practices at the Florida Integrative Medical Center. He teaches at NOVA Southeastern University and Emperor’s College of Oriental Medicine.

Visit Dr. Williams’ Website:

And Follow on Facebook:


Comments are closed.