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Secrets Behind the Absence of Heart Diseases and High Blood Pressure among the Maasai

As early as 1960s, Food scientists exposed a remarkable contradiction which is a real paradox.

Although the rural Maasai population consumes predominantly repulsively unhealthy foods consisting of milk, meat and blood, they exhibit no signs of cholesterol that clog the arteries.

The absence of the dreadful cholesterol in the arteries of the rural Maasai folks translates to absence of heart diseases. So what is their secret?

The Benefits of rudimentariness

The rural Maasai community maintain their subsistence lifestyle as pastoralists. Like most of such populations, their biggest health problem is under nutrition, infectious disease, sanitation and child mortality amazingly, they are relatively free from what is bothering the modern man; the so called western diseases.

Although high consumption of milk fat is associated with high risk of heart diseases, the rural Maasai consume milk as the single most important component in their diet giving them 66% of their 2500 kilocalories per day. Despite surviving on this rather unhealthy diet high in milk and meat, they are not victims of hypercholesterolemia, a condition characterised by high levels of dangerous cholesterol in the blood.

Nothing out of the 13th planet.

When researchers discovered the low incidences of heart diseases among the Maasai, they embarked on in depth studies to establish the basis. Between 1960 and 1980 there are several publications unravelling the Maasai paradox. All these studies narrowed down to nothing out of the 13th planet but four simple reasons that any Tom, Dick and Harry can emulate.

1. Physical Exercise-The wonder drug

Life is sweet with absence of physical tiredness. This is not the case with rural Maasai though, for them to enjoy a decent meal, they have to till their usually very small gardens if any, they have to walk into the forest to look for the fire wood, they have to walk their cattle and goats looking for pastures.

To take pleasure in a cooked meal at home, they have to make long round trips to fetch water, and carry it in containers either on their back, head or just suspended in their hands. All these tiring physical activities have been hailed as contributory reasons why rural Maasai never complain of heart diseases.

Health-wise, the benefits of physical activities are enormous, particularly burning of calories. Consumed food provides energy to the body; this energy is measured in calories. If too much energy-giving foods such as carbohydrates are consumed, the excess is converted into fat and stored in the body. This fat is sometimes stored in form of an unwanted layer lining the inside of the pipes (arteries) that carry blood from the heart. This leads to narrowing of the diameter of the arteries causing the heart to overwork in pumping blood. This overworking is harmful and translates into deadly heart diseases.

The recommended daily energy intake is approximately 2500 kilocalories for men and 2000 kilocalories for women. Any excess calories above these are converted by body into fat.

A sure way of avoiding excess calories from being deposited as fat; is to burn them through physical activity. As recent as 2010, a study published in respected Journal of British sports medicine reports that, the rigorous physical activities of the rural Maasai can burn up to 2560 kilocalories per day. This is phenomenally three times higher than the energy that an inactive urban Maasai or Bantu can burn. When a rural Maasai is burning up to 2500 Kilocalories in a day, a sedentary urbanites burn just 890 Kilocalories a day. Which means a rural Maasai can exhaustively burn any excess calories consumed from milk and meat fat.

To bring the Maasai calorie expenditure in perspective, it is authoritatively recognised by a research that; inactive westerners and some of urbanites in developing countries need to walk 19 kilometres more per day to burn same amount of calories as the rural Maasai do. This startling observation was published in 1998 in the International Journal of sports medicine.

Traditionally, most other African communities enjoyed very low or absence of heart diseases simply because they lived in rural areas and their pre-occupation was like that of the rural Maasai; to go out and look for food. This involved physical and manual activities such as chasing antelopes and gazelles for meat, cutting firewood, digging, carrying heavy loads such as water and babies in the head or at the back.

People could walk from morning to evening crossing mountains and hills to their destinations, for example, taking animals for grazing, visiting relatives, going to the market or hospital, or fetching water and firewood.

Thanks to the technological advancement and invention of cars and motorcycles for moving from one place to another, use of compute and mobile phones, people are no longer physically active.

Unfortunately and regrettably, this convenience has eliminated that magical rigorous exercise of walking that could help burn calories and cut heart diseases.

Cosmetic solution

To solve the crisis of physical inactivity, gyms and a plethora of exercises emerged to facilitate people to burn calories.

Gyms are good for those who can afford them. The gym membership costs are exorbitant and often they are located in upmarket parts of towns (particularly in developing countries). This makes them a preserve of the rich few.

The big question, are indoor gyms necessary in tropics where the weather is very good throughout the year?

Bottom line

To reduce the risk of heart diseases, physical exercise is mandatory. Here are some of suggestions.

  • Unglue the bum out of your comfortable seat and do some exercise.
  • Take stairs to 10th floor instead of using a lift.
  • Instead of going shopping by a car, just walk or cycle.
  • Limit the time spent on the coach watching TV, instead, either engage in trimming the fence, cutting grass or playing with kids.
  • Banish the customary mentality of mature men and women are not supposed to be seen running. Take a few runs around the estate every day, either in the morning or evening.
  • Visit your relative on foot if they live nearby. Walk to church etc.
  • Finally, as a last option, join the gym not as a show of how loaded you are, by as a means to physical fitness for the sake of health.

P.S. do not forget to read part 2 to find out the other 3 reasons.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Joseph February 25, 2011, 2:18 pm

    Hello Mr Arimi

    I can’t seem to find part 2 and three of the above report. Could you please send it to me if possible.

    • Joshua Arimi March 8, 2011, 6:49 am

      Hi Joseph, I have just posted the second and the final part of the article on Maasai Paradox.

  • hellen October 13, 2011, 7:36 am

    Thanks alot .Your work has assisted me in doing my college assingment.

  • Oliver Barefoot November 9, 2011, 11:50 pm

    A wonderful lifestyle. Their men do not suffer from gout yet their main food is red meat. One draw back to their diet, though. Men have very low fertility. Hardly more than 2 children per house hold. And a masai man does not mind if other men sleep with his wife. Infact you will be a very good friend if you can make his wife pregnant and he will allow her to visit you more frequently. Must be something to do with low sperm count due to their diet. Herbs/vegetables hold the secret to male fertility. You find more children per household in areas where vegetables is the predominant food. Kikuyus and Kisiis for instance. Even in the wild, compare the numbers of the carnivores and the herbivores – the numbers of the lions vs the wilderbeasts.

    • Joshua Arimi November 10, 2011, 10:38 pm

      Hi Oliver, an interesting opinion there. I have not come across a strong scientific evidence advancing that idea so far. I must be sincere I will look out to gain more info on that concept of sperm count and reproduction among Maasai. Thanks Oliver.

  • Eric Nyaga July 18, 2012, 6:53 pm

    very informative piece there. how should the typical healthy diet of an urbanite look like? composition of breakfast, lunch and supper.

  • barbara namelok August 4, 2012, 9:45 pm

    Most maasai i lived among had large families, so not sure where notions that they have fertility problems comes from.