Science Solitaire

[Science Solitaire] The native’s secret to escape dementia (and other secrets)

Maria Isabel Garcia
[Science Solitaire] The native’s secret to escape dementia (and other secrets)

Illustration by DR Castuciano

Now that we are literally fighting for our lives in a planet on fire (because of the climate crisis and wars), we still are largely blind, deaf, condescending (at best) and oppressive (at worst) to the humans already among us who can save us from ourselves

When humans create problems for and with themselves – it is easy for us to call on non-human beings, including extraterrestrials, that we hope exist and who could come and rescue us. What we humans, have utterly failed (again) to recognize is the solutions are also embedded in humans. And with some of our mega-problems, these solutions are clearly held by special groups of humans – the indigenous peoples (IPs). They hold the key to untangling some of the most serious problems that we modern humans have knowingly or unknowingly created for ourselves.

Previous studies among other IPs have indicated their dementia rates ranged between 0.5% to 20%. Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is a major cause of dementia. The groups with higher incidences were linked to various risk factors for dementia which include HIV/AIDS, diabetes, hypertension, alcohol abuse, obesity, cardiovascular disease and mental health disorders.  But a study published this month has revealed that among a certain indigenous groups in the Bolivian part of the Amazon rainforest, namely the Tsimane and the Moseten people, their dementia rates were only 1% compared to about 8% to 11% in high-income modern societies around the world. While the Moseten people are less isolated than the Tsimane, the results for both were similar.

The study cited other risk factors for dementia such as diabetes and physical inactivity and – a more recent “reveal”: air pollution. The clogging of arteries, particularly of the heart, is also linked to higher risk for dementia. And these could be mitigated by the regular consumption of fresh vegetables, fruits, and fish.

The study found that the low prevalence of AD and related dementias among Tsimane and Moseten were strongly linked to their low prevalence of cardiovascular problems. These groups also had low rates of hypertension, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and smoking but they had high levels of physical activity, and a diet low in processed carbohydrates and fat. While they are not exposed to industrial and traffic pollution, they are exposed to cooking fires and biomass burning.

While most modern societies find the way of life of IPs strange and uncomfortable (at best), the biological histories of ALL humans, including many who have never seen or interacted with IPs, are the same. Only 1% of the entire history of humans’ 200,000 years is modern. The rest have been carved out in close proximity with nature – which is the mark of the identity of IPs up to now.

That is also why indigenous peoples hold a vital key in unlocking knowledge and ways of living with nature. Scientists, especially the ones in working on the environment such as ecologists, biologists and anthropologists, agree that it is essential that we “see” indigenous peoples and that they have a right to a seat at the table where we make decisions.

This is because IPs see nature as a whole – as an ecosystem and not as fragmented categories of “forests”, “water”, “sky”, “soil”, “mountain”, “swamps” or “supermarket shelves” like “fruits”, “vegetables” or “meat.” They have lived and passed on a knowledge of how all these are connected – that diminishing one will affect many in various ways and for how long. They are who they are because they have lived in direct dependence on nature, every single day. There is no PhD that can match hundreds of thousands of years that observations and knowledge passed on and tested directly with and in nature itself. Not relying on them to participate and teach the rest of us how to live in the world is akin to getting rid of the fundamental sheet music embedded in being humans in this living planet.

As always, we modern folk have had it backwards again. We are actually the ultimate deniers of our genuine identity as humans who need thriving nature in order to live. Now that we are literally fighting for our lives in a planet on fire (because of the climate crisis and wars), we still are largely blind, deaf, condescending (at best) and oppressive (at worst) to the humans already among us who can save us from ourselves.

If aliens, deities or superheroes actually come, all they could probably say is “You hid from the answers which have been there all along hiding in plain sight.” And then bill you for the trouble of having come with no solution because our problems and answers are endemic to being human. – Rappler.com