Having more money generally means living longer. Being able to afford better access to private healthcare, better medicines, healthier food, much healthier conditions, a subscription to the gym … has a lot of weight in the number of years we are on this planet. But in the United States there is a very curious situation: the Latino community, fundamentally poor, is the longest-lived, which puts an eye on the scientific community. It is the so-called ‘Hispanic paradox‘.
This ethnic group is, in the United States, the last in educational level, according to data from the US Department of Education. In fact, it is the ethnic group that most often drops out of school before finishing high school (1 in 3 children does not finish). In addition, after the African American community, it is the second population group with the highest poverty rate, with 16%, as explained by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Finally, since healthcare in the North American country is private, Latinos are, according to a study published by researcher Heeju Sohn, from the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA), the population group that lives the longest without health insurance (essential to access professional care), with a total of 21.7 years without health coverage.
“Beans could be the reason for the existence of the ‘Hispanic paradox’, since they reduce inflammation”
Despite all these hopeless data, Hispanic residents of the United States are by far the longest-living. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), both Hispanic men and women can expect to live, on average, 3 years longer than the white population and 6.5 years longer than the African American population.
This situation was first observed in the United States in 1986 when researchers KS Markides and J. Coreil of the University of Texas published “The Health of Hispanics in the Southwestern United States.” In this study, a new term, the ‘Latin paradox’, was proposed to define this situation. Many theories appeared at that time, as Dr Michael Greger states: “Perhaps the data was not correct? Could it be that only the healthiest emigrated to the United States? Or, on the contrary, it was the ‘salmon’ theory biased ‘, which assumed that Latinos returned to their home countries to die there? For 30 years a multitude of scientific studies have been carried out, such as that published by J. Medina Inojosa, N. Jean, M. Cortes Bergoderi and F. Lopez Jimenez, from Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami and from the Mayo Clinic, in 2014. In fact, it seems that they were directly opposed to reality. In addition, this study showed that Latinos do have yet another risk factor for premature death: They are the most sedentary ethnic group in the United States (although they are also the least-smoking).
But Americans don’t have that kind of personality that accepts a mystery as such and goes on with their life. No, they see an opportunity in everything. If it was not external and unknown causes that affected the ‘ accounting’ of mortality in the Hispanic community, the reasons for its longevity, perhaps it was due to some genetic factor. But it turned out, as indicated on a study of 2015, prepared by J. T Lariscy, RA Hummer and MD Hayward, of Duke University, that when Hispanics become acculturated and acquire the ‘typical’ American way of life, their mortality rate rises to catch up with that of the white population.
The only possible explanation the researchers could think of was that the Latino community itself has a lifestyle that increases its longevity. The data, in general, are very similar to the rest of the ethnic groups, but there is one in particular that stands out above the rest: the beans. According to a report published by the ‘Agricultural Marketing Resource Center’ and prepared by researchers Gary Lucier, Biing-Hwan Lin, JaneAllshouse and Linda Scott Kantor, the population of Hispanic origin in the United States represents 11% of the total and, even being so few consume 33% of the beans of the North American country. In other words, Latinos eat legumes nonstop. Each individual in this population group consumes between 4 and 5 times more beans than anyone else. This, as Dr Michael Greger points out, “could be the reason for the existence of the ‘Hispanic paradox’, since legumes ‘cool’ systemic inflammation.”
The doctor’s reasoning is based on the fact that these vegetables are full of fiber, a powerful prebiotic. This nutrient is not absorbed in any way by our intestinal wall, but it does have two great qualities. The first is that it is the best way to ensure proper gastrointestinal transit since it adds mass to our food bolus. The second (and most important) is that, although it is not food for us, it is for the beneficial bacteria that live within our body: the microbiota. They use it to break those very long ( and very hard ) carbohydrates chains that make up the fibre and release, in return, short-chain fatty acids that can cross the intestinal barrier.
As researchers Chang H. Kim, Jeongho Park, and Myunghoo Kim of Purdue University in the United States emphasize in a study, short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) have the ability to regulate the activity of immune T cells, which are the ones that cause inflammation. These anti-inflammatory effects do not only take place in the intestine but since SCFAs are able to cross the intestinal barrier, they act throughout the body.
Hispanics are half as likely as whites to have cardiovascular disease
As Dr Michael Greger points out, “Latinos have the lowest rates of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), lung, bladder, throat and colon cancer. Both in men and women.” The effects of fibre and microbiota could be behind these results. In addition, as the specialist continues, “when Hispanics get lung, colon or breast cancer, they have better survival rates. Decreasing systemic inflammation can be important for both prevention and survival.”
In addition, and last but not least, a 2013 study prepared by researchers M. Cortes Bergoderi, K. Goel, MH Murad, T. Allison, V. K Somers, P. J Erwin, O. Sochor and F. Lopez Jimenez, all of them from the Mayo Clinic, proved (with a study group consisting of the medical data of 22,340,554 Hispanics and 88,824,619 ‘non-Hispanic whites ‘, NHW) that those belonging to the Latino ethnicity is half as likely as NHWs to suffer cardiovascular disease.
The second Hispanic paradox
The question we must ask ourselves at this point is whether they are as long-lived in Latin American countries as Hispanic Americans. The answer is nowhere. According to data published by the World Health Organization in 2016, Chile and Costa Rica are the longest-lived countries in Latin America, with a life expectancy for both sexes of 80.4 years. They rank 29th and 30th respectively, just ahead of the United States. In contrast, Mexico, the country from which the vast majority of Hispanic Americans originate, ranks 46, with 76.7 years of life. In any case, and along with the aforementioned, Uruguay, Panama and Cuba, are part of the countries with the highest life expectancy in Latin America.
The reasons why Latinos only live longer when they emigrate to the United States remains to be discovered. In any case, as we said before, the general health of Hispanic Americans is better than that of other ethnic groups, and we could take an example and start eating more beans.