Aging, Acculturation, Salt Intake, and Hypertension in the Kuna of Panama
The indigenous Kuna who live on islands in the Panamanian Caribbean were among the first communities described with little age-related rise in blood pressure or hypertension. Our goals in this study were to ascertain whether isolated island-dwelling Kuna continue to show this pattern, whether migration to Panama City and its environs changed the patterns, and whether the island-dwelling Kuna have maintained their normal blood pressure levels despite partial acculturation, reflected in an increased salt intake. We enrolled 316 Kuna participants who ranged in age from 18 to 82 years. In 50, homogeneity was confirmed by documentation of an O+ blood group. In 92 island dwellers, diastolic hypertension was not identified and blood pressure levels were as low in volunteers over 60 years of age as in those between 20 and 30 years of age. In Panama City, conversely, hypertension prevalence was 10.7% and exceeded 45% in those over 60 years of age (P<.01), blood pressure levels were higher in the elderly, and there was a statistically significant positive relationship between age and blood pressure (P<.01). In Kuna Nega, a Panama City suburb designed to maintain a traditional Kuna lifestyle but with access to the city, all findings were intermediate. Sodium intake and excretion assessed in 50 island-dwelling Kuna averaged 135±15 mEq/g creatinine per 24 hours, exceeding substantially other communities free of hypertension and an age-related rise in blood pressure. Despite partial acculturation, the island-dwelling Kuna Indians are protected from hypertension and thus provide an attractive population for examining alternative mechanisms.