Even ‘intermittent’ exposure to Western lifestyle leads to BP increases

A study of two neighboring communities living in the remote Venezuelan rainforest is poking holes in the idea that blood pressure inevitably increases with age.  

Residents of one community, the Yanomami, demonstrated a flat BP throughout the life course, as indicated by age-BP intercepts and slopes derived from blood pressure measurements in 72 participants aged 1 to 60. On the other hand, Yekwana participants showed average annual increases of 0.25 mm Hg for systolic BP and 0.18 for diastolic BP, based on measurements from 83 participants. Overall, the average blood pressures for the Yanomami and Yekwana, respectively, were 95.4/62.9 mm Hg and 104/66.1 mm Hg.

Both communities are inaccessible by land, but the Yekwana village is near a small airstrip, which has allowed for missionaries to visit as well as intermittent exposure to “aspects of Western lifestyle” like salt, medicine and processed foods. The Yanomami, however, “are among the least acculturated peoples in the world” and have the lowest known BP measurements of any adults, Noel T. Mueller, PhD, MPH, and colleagues wrote in JAMA Cardiology.

Studies in the Yanomami have been limited, they pointed out, and this is the first report to analyze BP changes over the population’s lifespan.

“The rise in BP with age may not be natural but rather a consequence of unnatural Western exposures,” wrote Mueller, with Johns Hopkins University, and colleagues. “Furthermore, the age-associated BP rise in the more Westernized Yekwana community began in childhood, highlighting the potential for lifestyle interventions in children to prevent elevated BP.”

Based on the blood pressure slopes, SBPs were already 5.8 mm Hg higher by age 10 in the Yekwana individuals. The authors noted that in the U.S., SBP increases by about 1.5 mm Hg annually in girls, 1.9 mm Hg each year in boys and 0.6 mm Hg each year in adults—all substantially higher than the totals seen even from the more Westernized of these rainforest communities.

“This study of BP over the lifespan of 2 relatively isolated Amerindian communities from the Venezuelan rainforest helps to disentangle the effects of aging vs modern lifestyle on BP, supporting primordial prevention efforts (ie, those directed at avoiding the development of risk factors) to eliminate elevated BP.”