Researchers were stunned to discover so many older people in peak physical and mental condition living in one place. The elderly population of Acciaroli in Italy’s Campania region has low rates of heart disease and Alzheimer’s. Experts are convinced a combination of the Mediterranean diet, daily exercise and extensive use of the herb rosemary has been responsible for extending lives almost two decades beyond the national average in Italy of 83.
A specialist team will now carry out rigorous tests on locals to discover their secret. The findings could radically change the way a host of age-related illnesses are treated worldwide.
But it is what they eat that interests researchers most. Mealtimes are based around the Mediterranean diet of fish, fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and olive oil with herbs and spices used to favour foods instead of salt. Locals infuse everything with the herb rosemary, which many believe has healing properties. Native to the Mediterranean, rosemary is commonly used in cooking and is a good source of iron, calcium and vitamin B6. Yet many eat it for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties believing it can boost the immune system, improve circulation and alleviate muscle pain.
The US-Italian research team is the fi rst in the world to be given permission to study the people. Over six months they will analyse blood samples and test for cognitive dysfunction and resilience to heart disease, dementia, kidney disease and cancer.
They will also examine lifestyle, especially diet and exercise. Professor Salvatore Di Somma, of the Sapienza University of Rome, said: “This project will not only help unlock some of the secrets of healthy ageing, but will build closer ties with researchers globally, which will lead to improved clinical care in our ageing population.” Professor Simon Capewell, of the UK Faculty of Public Health, said: “Poor diet causes a bigger burden of disease and death than smoking, alcohol and inactivity combined.
“This study may throw further light on why the Mediterranean diet is so healthy.”
Latest official figures for the UK show a boy could expect to live to 79.1 and a girl to 82.8. Dr Ian Campbell, a family GP from Nottingham, said: “A Mediterranean diet and active lifestyle are well recognised health-promoting factors. “While most British people can get their head around more fruit, vegetables and fish in their diet, they would struggle walking long distances and hiking through mountains on a daily basis.
“It’s important we learn from these isolated unique population groups, but any lessons learned have to be translated to a British way of life.”