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N Engl J Med. 1991 Dec 12;325(24):1704-8.

Changes in lipid and lipoprotein levels and body weight in Tarahumara Indians after consumption of an affluent diet.

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Department of Medicine, Oregon Health Sciences University, Portland 97201-3098.



Major new public health problems occur in developing countries as they become more affluent and change their traditional dietary patterns. To study this phenomenon in microcosm, we substituted an "affluent" diet for the traditional diet of a group of Tarahumara Indians, a Mexican people known to consume a low-fat, high-fiber diet and to have a very low incidence of risk factors for coronary heart disease.


Thirteen Tarahumara Indians (five women and eight men [including one adolescent]) consumed their traditional diet (2700 kcal per day) for one week, and were then fed a diet typical of affluent societies, which contained excessive calories (4100 kcal per day), total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol, for five weeks.


After five weeks of consuming the affluent diet, the subjects' mean (+/- SE) plasma cholesterol level increased by 31 percent, from 121 +/- 5 to 159 +/- 6 mg per deciliter (3.13 +/- 0.13 to 4.11 +/- 0.16 mmol per liter, P less than 0.001). The increase in the plasma cholesterol level was primarily in the low-density lipoprotein (LDL) fraction, which rose 39 percent, from 72 +/- 3 to 100 +/- 4 mg per deciliter (1.86 +/- 0.08 to 2.59 +/- 0.10 mmol per liter, P less than 0.001). High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, usually low in this population, increased by 31 percent, from 32 +/- 2 to 42 +/- 3 mg per deciliter (0.83 +/- 0.05 to 1.09 +/- 0.08 mmol per liter). Consequently, the ratio of LDL to HDL levels changed little (2.25 with the base-line diet and 2.38 with the affluent diet). Plasma triglyceride levels increased by 18 percent, from 91 +/- 8 to 108 +/- 11 mg per deciliter (1.03 +/- 0.09 to 1.22 +/- 0.12 mmol per liter, P less than 0.05), with a significant increase in the very-low-density lipoprotein triglyceride fraction. All the subjects gained weight, with a mean increase of 3.8 kg (7 percent).


When Tarahumara Indians from a population with virtually no coronary risk factors consumed for a short time a hypercaloric diet typical of a more affluent society, they had dramatic increases in plasma lipid and lipoprotein levels and body weight. If sustained, such changes might increase their risk of coronary heart disease.

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