The Italian village that is a centenarian haven

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Acciaroli in south-west Italy is no ordinary place. It is home to an extraordinarily high number of centenarians and one of the reasons might be the unusually good blood circulation of the elderly in the village.

The Independent reports that more than one in 10 of the population of 700 is over 100 years old, and the hamlet has been the focus of a study to discover the factors that contribute to its residents’ longevity.

After spending six months in the area, researchers from Rome’s Sapineza University and the San Diego School of Medicine found that elderly people in the region have unusually good blood circulation for their age.

The research team analysed blood samples from more than 80 residents, and discovered extraordinarily low levels of adrenomedullin, a hormone that widens blood vessels. The levels of adrenomedullin were similar to those you would normally find in people in their 20s and 30s, the researchers said. High levels of the hormone can cause blood vessels to contract, causing circulatory problems which can lead to other serious health conditions.

The report says the research team is yet to discover the cause of the phenomenon, but believe it is closely related to diet and exercise. People in Acciaroli tend to eat locally caught fish, home-reared rabbits and chickens as well as olive oil and home-grown vegetables and fruit. The study also notes that the locals all eat rosemary, which is thought to help improve brain function, and local varieties of the herb are set to be studied in a broader examination into longevity in the region.

“When we tested it, we found a dozen different compounds in there. Scientific studies have shown that acids help the function of the brain,” Dr Alan Maisel, a cardiologist from the School of Medicine at the University of California – San Diego, is quoted in the report as saying.

In addition, those living in the region suffer from fewer diseases than those living in other western countries. “We found that they don’t have the sort of chronic diseases that we see in the US such as heart disease, obesity and Alzheimer’s,” Maisel said. “We noticed that they don’t suffer from cataracts. Most people in the US, if you are over 80, you have cataracts. We saw none,” he said.

But, the report says, perhaps there is another important factor in locals’ long lives. “Sexual activity among the elderly appears to be rampant,” Maisel said. “Maybe living long has something to do with that. It’s probably the good air and the joie de vivre.”

The report says the hamlet, 85 miles south from Naples on the Cilento coast, is in the area where US nutritionist Ancel Keys cited the highest concentration of centenarians in the world in 1950, as he sought to establish evidence that a “Mediterranean diet” contributed to longevity. He moved to the region with his wife, and lived to be 100 years old.

 

The Acciaroli study group is known to have very low rates of heart disease and Alzheimer’s. Due to the location of the village, Maisel said locals also walk long distances and hike through the mountains as part of their daily activity.

“The goal of this long-term study is to find out why this group of 300 is living so long by conducting a full genetic analysis and examining lifestyle behaviors, like diet and exercise,” said Maisel. “The results from studying the longevity of this group could be applied to our practice at University of California – San Diego and to patients all over the world.”

Maisel and his research team will work with their Italian counterparts to collect blood samples and distribute questionnaires to the group over the next six months. The study will also involve tests to look at metabolomics, biomes, cognitive dysfunction and protein biomarkers for risk of heart disease, Alzheimer’s, kidney disease and cancer.

“This project will not only help to unlock some of the secrets of healthy aging, but will build closer ties with researchers across the globe, which will lead to more science and improved clinical care in our aging population,” said Dr Salvatore DiSomma, lead Italian investigator and professor of emergency medicine at University of Rome La Sapienza.

Full report in The Independent
University of California – San Diego material


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