Western Culture, Not Age, Linked to Elevated Blood Pressure

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Members of 2 remote Venezuelan tribes were found to have elevated blood pressure following exposure to Western culture.
Members of 2 remote Venezuelan tribes were found to have elevated blood pressure following exposure to Western culture.

According to a researcher letter published in JAMA Cardiology, blood pressure elevation among isolated Yekwana hunter-gatherer-gardeners living in the Venezuelan rainforest appears to be linked with the proliferation of Westernized lifestyle habits, challenging the long-held notion that increase in blood pressure is merely dictated by increasing age. The Yekwana peoples appeared to have greater increases in blood pressure compared with a neighboring community, possibly because of their greater exposure to medicine and missions from the Western world.

Approval from the Yanomami village chief and council was obtained prior to conducting the study. Sitting blood pressure was measured by investigators certified in auscultatory blood pressure measurement. A total of 72 individuals from the Yanomami community and 83 residents from the Yekwana community were included in the study. At time of enrollment, participants were between the ages of 1 and 60 years. No differences were observed between the 2 villages with regard to mean age, sex distribution, or weight.

Yanomami participants had significantly lower mean systolic blood pressure compared with Yekwana participants (95.4±8.7 mmHg vs 104.0±10.6 mmHg, respectively; P <.001). Additionally, Yanomami participants had significantly lower mean diastolic blood pressure (62.9±8.5 mmHg vs 66.1±9.5 mmHg; P =.03).

At 10 years of age, the mean systolic blood pressure was also 5.8 mmHg higher among Yekwana participants compared with Yanomami participants, increasing to a difference of 15.9 mmHg by 50 years of age. The investigators observed a steeper age-systolic blood pressure slope among Yekwana vs Yanomami participants between the ages of 1 and 20 years (mean difference, 0.98±0.39 mmHg per year; P =.01), suggesting that “divergent blood pressure trends may already start in childhood.”

Limitations of the study include its small sample size and the cross-sectional nature of the analysis.

According to the researchers, findings from this study help “to disentangle the effects of aging vs modern lifestyle on blood pressure, supporting primordial prevention efforts (ie, those directed at avoiding the development of risk factors) to eliminate elevated [blood pressure].”

Reference

Mueller NT, Noya-Alarcon O, Contreras M, Appel LJ, Dominguez-Bello MG. Association of age with blood pressure across the lifespan in isolated Yanomami and Yekwana villages [published online November 14, 2018]. JAMA Cardiol. doi:10.1001/jamacardio.2018.3676

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