A new study was published in the journal, Nutrition Research, comparing the excellent eye health of the Kawymeno Waorani hunter-gatherers in Amazonian Ecuador to the deteriorating eye health of the neighboring indigenous Santa Teresita Kichwa farmers.
The title of the article is “A phytochemical-rich diet may explain the absence of age-related decline in visual acuity of Amazonian hunter-gatherers in Ecuador,” and the abstract can be found here.
There are several key takeaways that I’d like to discuss, as many of them (if not all) can apply to the choices modern humans face. Some of them seem obvious, while others may surprise you.
•The Waorani hunter-gatherers consume an average of 130 animal and plant species as part of their diet. The Kichwa farmers consume about 64.
•It appears that phytochemicals in the wide variety of plant foods confer the most benefits toward eye health in the hunter-gatherer population.
•Fruits (about 76 different species) provide the majority of phytochemicals to the Waorani diet.
•According to one Waorani hunter-gatherer, “Wao do not like vegetables, we only like fruit.” They even express disgust when they see vegetables being consumed. Their food system has no other vegetables other than 3 species of starchy tubers – cassava (Manihot esculenta) and sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas, Pachyrhizus angulatus) – one wild grain/root, and wild peanuts (Arachis sp.).
•This is a big one: Even though the Kichwa farmers consume a diet rich in organic, agriculturally produced vegetables, it’s still not enough to preserve eye health, which begins to show signs of deterioration in the 40-49 age range.
•These results are fascinating particularly because the Kichwa farmers do not read, use the computer, or do close visual work, which are all variables that contribute to vision problems in modern societies. Yet the Kichwa still show signs of eye diseases similar to what we see in Western populations.
•How is the general health of the Waorani hunter-gatherers as they age? According to the researcher’s field journal, “He [a young man] was astounded that a 72-year-old woman could run faster than he could, as we could tell from his expression, when she hit him in the testicles while he was sprinting.”
•This isn’t the first study showing a stark contrast between excellent eye health in hunter-gatherer populations, compared to deteriorating eye health in nearby agrarian communities (1, 2).
Once again, we are provided evidence that a hunter-gatherer lifestyle is anything but deprivation, hardship, and famine. What can we learn from this study?
- Even organically raised food may not be enough to protect against age-related vision problems.
- Eat a variety – a very, very large variety – of foods rich in phytochemicals.
- Don’t fear (wild) fruit.
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