Present evidence suggests that modern humans were the first hominid species to successfully colonize high-latitude environments (> or =55 degrees N). Given evidence for a recent (<200,000 years) lower latitude naissance of modern humans, the global dispersal and successful settlement of arctic and subarctic regions represent an unprecedented adaptive shift. This adaptive shift, which included cultural, behavioral, and biological dimensions, allowed human populations to cope with the myriad environmental stressors encountered in circumpolar regions. Although unique morphological and physiological adaptations among contemporary northern residents have been recognized for decades, human biologists are only now beginning to consider whether biological adaptations to regional environmental conditions influence health changes associated with economic modernization and lifestyle change. Recent studies have documented basal metabolic rates (BMRs) among indigenous Siberian populations that are systematically elevated compared to lower latitude groups; this metabolic elevation apparently is a physiological adaptation to cold stress experienced in the circumpolar environment. Important health implications of metabolic adaptation are suggested by research with the Yakut (Sakha), Evenki, and Buriat of Siberia. BMR is significantly positively correlated with blood pressure, independently of body size, body composition, and various potentially confounding variables (e.g., age and smoking). Further, this research has documented a significant negative association between BMR and LDL cholesterol, which remains after controlling for potential confounders; this suggests that high metabolic turnover among indigenous Siberians has a protective effect with regard to plasma lipid levels. These results underscore the importance of incorporating an evolutionary approach into health research among northern populations.
Article Archive: Siberia
This article examines evidence for elevations in basal metabolic rate (BMR) among indigenous Northern (circumpolar) populations and considers potential mechanisms and the adaptive basis for such elevations. Data on BMR among indigenous (n = 109 males; 122 females) and nonindigenous (n = 15 males; 22 females) circumpolar groups of North America and Siberia are compiled and compared to predicted BMRs based on three different references: body surface area (Consolazio et al., 1963), body mass (Schofield, 1985), and fat-free mass (Poehlman and Toth, 1995). Regardless of which reference is used, indigenous circumpolar groups show systematic and statistically significant elevations in BMR ranging from +7% to +19% above predicted values for indigenous men and from +3 to +17% for indigenous women. Nonindigenous males also show elevations in BMR, although not to the same extent as in indigenous men (deviations = +3 to +14%), whereas nonindigenous females show no clear evidence of elevated BMRs (deviations = -7 to +5%). This pattern of variation between indigenous and nonindigenous groups suggests that both functional and genetic factors play a role in metabolic adaptation to northern climes. Recent studies on the ecology and genetics of thyroid function offer insights into the mechanisms through which indigenous circumpolar populations may regulate metabolic rates. Studies of seasonal variation in thyroid hormone levels suggest that indigenous circumpolar populations may have a greater capacity to elevate BMR during severe cold than nonindigenous groups. Recent twin studies indicate a significant genetic component of thyroid responses to environmental stressors. Further research exploring the genetics of seasonal variation in thyroid function and BMR among circumpolar groups would advance understanding of the role that selection may have played in shaping metabolic variation.
The Yakuts are a Turkic-speaking population from northeastern Siberia who are believed to have originated from ancient Turkic populations in South Siberia, based on archaeological and ethnohistorical evidence. In order to better understand Yakut origins, we modeled 25 demographic scenarios and tested by coalescent simulation whether any are consistent with the patterns of mtDNA diversity observed in present-day Yakuts. The models consist of either two simulated demes that represent Yakuts and a South Siberian ancestral population, or three demes that also include a regional Northeast Siberian population that served as a source of local gene flow into the Yakut deme. The model that produced the best fit to the observed data defined a founder group with an effective female population size of only 150 individuals that migrated northwards approximately 1,000 years BP and who experienced significant admixture with neighboring populations in Northeastern Siberia. These simulation results indicate a pronounced founder effect that was primarily kin-structured and reconcile reported discrepancies between Yakut mtDNA and Y chromosome diversity levels.
Researchers and development organizations have shown interest in individual empowerment because it presumably improves well-being. Estimates of empowerment's effects on well-being contain biases from the potential endogeneity of empowerment. Using data from a sexually egalitarian and highly autarkic society of foragers and horticulturalists in the Bolivian Amazon, the Tsimane', we overcome the problems that this poses by: (1) matching spouses' responses to the same questions about who makes decisions or who breaks ties in 10 domains to improve accuracy in measures of empowerment; and (2) using parental attributes of spouses as instrumental variables for spousal empowerment. Outcomes include two anthropometric indices of short-run nutritional status: body-mass index and age and sex-standardized z scores of mid-arm muscle area. The amount of empowerment of household heads did not affect their nutritional status or other indicators of their well-being, such as income, wealth, expenditures, happiness, social capital, or self-perceived health. It also did not affect the nutritional status of their offspring. Nor did it affect the difference in income, wealth, or monetary expenditures between spouses. The insubstantial effects persisted with other definitions of empowerment or types of regressions. We end with a discussion of why empowerment, despite its popularity in development discourse, has such tenuous links with objective indicators of well-being, and the implication of this finding for future studies of empowerment's effects.
Hypertension is an important global health issue and is currently increasing at a rapid pace in most industrializing nations. Although a number of risk factors have been linked with the development of hypertension, including obesity, high dietary sodium, and chronic psychosocial stress, these factors cannot fully explain the variation in blood pressure and hypertension rates that occurs within and between populations. The present study uses data collected on adults from three indigenous Siberian populations (Evenki, Buryat, and Yakut [Sakha]) to test the hypothesis of Luke et al. (Hypertension 43 (2004) 555-560) that basal metabolic rate (BMR) and blood pressure are positively associated independent of body size. When adjusted for body size and composition, as well as potentially confounding variables such as age, smoking status, ethnicity, and degree of urbanization, BMR was positively correlated with systolic blood pressure (SBP; P < 0.01) and pulse pressure (PP; P < 0.01); BMR showed a trend with diastolic blood pressure (DBP; P = 0.08). Thus, higher BMR is associated with higher SBP and PP; this is opposite the well-documented inverse relationship between physical activity and blood pressure. If the influence of BMR on blood pressure is confirmed, the systematically elevated BMRs of indigenous Siberians may help explain the relatively high blood pressures and hypertension rates documented among native Siberians in the post-Soviet period. These findings underscore the importance of considering the influence of biological adaptation to regional environmental conditions in structuring health changes associated with economic development and lifestyle change.
BACKGROUND: Populations in transition to a Western lifestyle display increased incidences of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and other chronic diseases; the mechanisms responsible for these changes, however, remain incompletely understood. Although reduced physical activity has been implicated, few studies have accurately quantified energy expenditure in subsistence populations.
OBJECTIVE: The aim of the study was to examine the relation of total energy expenditure (TEE) and activity [physical activity level (PAL), activity energy expenditure (AEE), and weight-adjusted AEE (AEE/kg)] with body composition and lifestyle in the Yakut (Sakha), an indigenous high-latitude Siberian group.
DESIGN: We measured TEE using doubly labeled water and resting metabolic rate using indirect calorimetry in 28 young adults (14 women and 14 men) from Berdygestiakh, Russia.
RESULTS: The men had higher TEE (12,983 compared with 9620 kJ/d; P < 0.01), AEE (5248 compared with 3203 kJ/d; P < 0.05), AEE/kg (72.7 compared with 48.8 kJ . kg(-1) . d(-1); P < 0.05), and PAL (1.7 compared with 1.5; P = 0.09) than did the women, although this may reflect, in part, body size and composition differences. Overweight men and women had modestly higher TEEs than did lean participants; when adjusted for body size, activity levels were not significantly different between the groups. Persons with more traditional lifestyles had higher TEEs and PALs than did persons with more modernized lifestyles; this difference correlated with differences in participation in subsistence activities.
CONCLUSIONS: Activity levels in the Yakut were lower than those in other subsistence groups, especially the women, and were not significantly different from those in persons in industrialized nations. Persons who participated in more subsistence activities and consumed fewer market foods had significantly higher activity levels.