No high blood pressure

Primitive cultures that were, until recently, unexposed to the modern world, reveal some important insights into blood pressure.

The Yanomamo of South American, the Xingu Indians of Brazil, rural Kenyans, and the natives of Papua, New Guinea have average blood pressures of 103/63 mmHg. Even more incredibly, while 90% of modern Americans will develop high blood pressure as they age, the members of these primitive cultures do not develop age-related hypertension.

What's the secret? Perhaps the full "secret" of their remarkably low blood pressure has not been fully unraveled, but several observations have emerged:

--They are not exposed to modern processed foods like pretzels, crackers, and breakfast cereals.
--Low-carbohydrate foods. Carbohydrates are largely the product of the food industry, convenience foods bought in stores. No such thing in the jungle.
--Living outdoors, having to forage and hunt, walk to your destination, not drive or wait in line for food.
--Outdoor lives, wearing little more than a few strands of clothing, exposes you to plentiful vitamin D activation from sunlight exposure.
--Consuming wild game, rich in omega-3 fatty acids, enhances endothelial health and reduces blood pressure.
--Wild plants, roots, and berries, as well as wild game, along the coast, are richer in iodine.

The studies examining the habits of the Yanomamo and other primitive cultures focused principally on sodium intake. Indeed, the very low sodium intake of primitive cultures was associated with lower blood pressure--up to 6 mmHg reduction. But there's clearly more to learn than "cut your salt."

Comments (20) -

  • Mark

    10/14/2009 6:03:59 PM |

    Wonder what their life span is....

  • Barkeater

    10/14/2009 7:08:48 PM |

    Following the TYP program, my blood pressure (not bad to start - 114/72 was typical) has dropped to Yanomamo levels - 102/60 now being a typical reading.  Vit D, Vit K2, fish oil, low low wheat, krill oil, magnesium and a multi vitamin; weight loss may figure in too.

  • Jenny

    10/14/2009 8:36:13 PM |

    Don't leave out the other explanation for this: Quoting from Napoleon A. Chagnon. Yanomamo: The Fierce People (Chagnon lived with them).

    "The villages can be as small as 40 to 50 people or as large as 300 people, but in all cases there are many more children and babies than there are adults....Life expectancy is short. ...The Yanomamo are still conducting inter-village warfare, a phenomenon that affect all aspects of their social organization, settlement pattern, and daily routines. It is not simply 'ritualistic' war: at least one-fourth of all adult males die violently."

    If only the toughest babies survive and if males don't live much past their 30s you won't see all that much high blood pressure.

    The fact is American life expectancy--despite our diet--is dramatically better than that of any traditional society studied.

  • malcolm

    10/14/2009 10:42:55 PM |

    how do they do it??

  • Anonymous

    10/14/2009 11:19:54 PM |

    I'm 56.  I used to have average blood pressure of 140/95 when I was 40.  Ten years ago I dropped grains and dairy and have gradually transitioned to a carnivorous diet.  My blood pressure is now in Yanomamo territory.  

    In America it's "normal" for blood pressure to rise with age since it's "normal" to be sick here!

  • Anonymous

    10/15/2009 1:04:00 AM |

    I remember a tv documentary about salt, the sources of salt and use by humans since the early days of human civilizations. The Romans used salt as their currency to pay their soldiers. They also analyze and determined the salt intake of different ethnic groups. The question was also raised as whether salt is needed for human survival.  By this they mean, use of table salt in a shaker, added to our food during cooking. What they found is that this tribes in the Amazon, never use salt or even seen a table salt as we do in the civilized world. Their only source of salt(sodium) is whatever is present, in the game meats, plants and fruits they consume. Also the relative ratio between K and Na is 1:1 ratio or probably, a higher ratio of potassium than sodium.

    The foods being consumed in our society, especiaaly processed foods are full of salt, and most among us use a salt shaker every time we eat.


  • Anonymous

    10/15/2009 5:44:02 AM |

    Dr. Davis,

    Read your blog regularly and I know you dismiss the Ornish diet - however, saw that in his 2007 book, Dr. Ornish claims that he had a heart scan and his score was 0.  Do you find that at all compelling?


  • Peter

    10/15/2009 10:48:27 AM |

    I lived in a hunter gathering society for 2 years and I was struck by how low stress it was: except for the couple hours a daywhen people were going after food, they hung out and chatted.

  • susan allport

    10/15/2009 1:13:09 PM |

    I thought you would be interested in this new take on omega-3s in Prevention Magazine:

  • Scott W

    10/15/2009 1:38:32 PM |

    I wouldn't jump to the conclusion that jungle diets are low-carb. Especially in New Guinea, where an island full of people have historically been very hard on the animal resources, there has been great reliance on starchy tubers and other plant-based carb sources.

  • Chris

    10/15/2009 4:26:18 PM |

    Off topic, couldn't find an e-mail address Doc, if you could address the following - maybe of interest to readers.

    I had a regular checkup and my ALT was 129 (above normal). I am on no meds. I am a non-drinker. Don't have fatty liver. I take 4000 mg of fish oil daily of house brand - warehouse food store gel tabs. I have read you saying that most fish oil is from fish not on top of the food chain - low mercury. My doc wants to repeat test in two weeks to see if lab screwed up, flukes, etc.

    My question is, do you think some cheapo brands of gel tabs could have other impurities that could cause liver problems? Thanks.

  • Dr. William Davis

    10/15/2009 9:38:10 PM |


    Re: Dr. Dean Ornish.

    I don't believe that an experience of one can prove anything, good nor bad. The Ornish program does indeed work, however, for a small segment of the population, such as people who are apoE4 positive. For the rest of us, a low-fat diet is a destructive diet.

    Perhaps the best way to put it is: There are variations in what can be called "ideal" in different physiologic types.

  • Dr. William Davis

    10/15/2009 9:39:22 PM |


    While we've not witnessed this effect, it doesn't mean it couldn't happen.

    The most common problem with "cheapo" fish oil capsules is breakdown products, otherwise known as rancidity. If it smells excessively fishy, I wouldn't take it.

  • Dr. William Davis

    10/15/2009 9:40:40 PM |

    Hi, Jenny--

    No doubt. And there is more infectious disease, as well, not to mention traumatic injury.

    But the lessons are drawn from those who survive into later life.

  • Mike Turco

    10/15/2009 11:10:03 PM |

    These guys are (recently were?) the last surviving cannibal tribe. Not sure if they're still cannibals or have been lead away from that due to influence from the modern world.

  • Peter

    10/16/2009 9:39:27 AM |

    Re: the comment about the Ornish diet and Ornish's 0 reading on the heart scan, it's worth noting that Ornish has been railing against sugar and flour for 30 years, even though it's his anti-fats message that grabs people's attention.

    Nathan Pritikin, who did the Ornish diet before Ornish, was said to have arteries like a baby's when he died.

    It's worth paying attention to the way Ornish agrees with TYP as well as the way he doesn't,as both diets result in low scores.

  • Peter

    10/16/2009 9:58:51 AM |

    Jimmy Moore ( and Dean Ornish both scored 0 on their heart scans, even though one eats meat all day long a la Atkins, and the other eats vegetables all day long and never meat, you have to wonder what they have in common.  One thing is they don't eat Oreos (and other stuff made with flour and sugar since it violates the rules in both plans.)  I wonder what else they have in common that led to 0 heart scan scores.

  • Health Coaching

    10/18/2009 7:58:46 AM |

    So does the sodium intake actually affect the presuure to make it go to the gigher side?

  • Medical Billing Software

    3/23/2010 9:07:41 AM |

    I absolutely agree...the modern life is a jungle of bad habits.packed foods and easier lifestyle with electronic gadgets.I believe in the old school but can not keep with it all the time.