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The Island Where People Forget to Die: Is Eating "Real Food" the Reason?

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In the October 28, 2012 issue of the New York Times Sunday Magazine, Dan Buettner discusses "The Blue Zones": places in the world where an unexpectedly high percentage of people live to be over 100 years old (or close). Dan has a newly updated book out on this topic, but the focus of the New York Times article is the story of a Greek-born war veteran who moved to the U.S. and, in his 60s, developed lung cancer (presumed terminal). Expecting to die very soon, he returned to his native island, Ikaria, a Greek island 30 miles off the west coast of Turkey. Now, 35 years later and approximately 100 years old, he is cancer free and living an active life on Ikaria.

The question is why?

To come up with an answer, Dan Buettner has zeroed in on a "Blue Zone," which is a cluster of villages high in the mountains of Nuoro province in Sardinia, which contains the highest concentration of men over age 100 anywhere in the world.

He has recruited a team of experts, including Dr. Gianni Pes (University of Sassari in Italy) and Dr. Michel Poulain, a Belgian demographer, to help assess and validate if "Blue Zone" residents are really living longer than expected and why. So it is possible to compare and contrast the diet and lifestyle of residents of Ikaria, including Stamatis Moraitis, the long-lived cancer survivor, with centenarians from Sardinia and the other "Blue Zone" regions.

A key common feature is the local variations on the "Mediterranean type diet." The residents of Ikaria drink a popular "mountain tea" made from dried herbs such as marjoram, sage, mint (fliskouni), rosemary and dandelion. Local honey is widely used, and old people start their day with a spoonful of honey.

The menu in Ikaria include goat's milk, two-to-four glasses of local red wine daily, lentils, garbanzos, potatoes, fennel and seasonal vegetables from the garden. Residents also enjoy fish three times each week and small portions of larded pork from the family pig. There is generous use of olive oil with meals, plus local sourdough bread made with stone-ground wheat.

So there you have it, "Mediterranean Real Food": but there is also what they do not eat! Very little refined sugar and white flour; no sodas. All of this is remarkably like the "Real Food" approach we have been discussing in recent weeks.

Asked why she lived past 90 years, an old lady on Ikaria said it was the clean air and wine. A 101-year-old woman just shrugged and said, "We just forget to die."

There may be a lot of truth in this. The island residents do not track time (no clocks), work in their gardens, socialize, drink wine, have naps and are happy to wake up each day. So, although food is definitely important, the impact of the whole lifestyle cannot be ignored.

I have the impression that rushing to the gym eating an energy bar is not going to replicate the long life on Ikaria no matter how much "Real Food" we add in. We need true lifestyle changes, plus every effort to eat as best we can!

21 Comments

The article only describes how they live and what they eat. Changing one's diet and getting exercise will undoubtedly increase your life span but the article says nothing about how one's genetic makeup contributes to one's longevity.
Many people in my family have lived into their 90's and one aunt lived to 104 - her diet was healthy but did not include goat's milk or herbal teas - matter of fact she drank instant coffee and ate canned vegetables, was allergic to lemons and didn't have the money to buy olive oil. She did exercise daily though and had very close family. My father died at 93. He ate everything - was an omnivore - and ate more meat than vegetables - cured meats we just delicious to him - he got very little exercise and never drank herbal teas.

I think the folks in Sardinia and in Ikaria just happen to have great genes and the combination of their genes and the healthy foods they eat are what keep them living so long.

I grew up on Real Food long before the modern fast food revolution and agri-businesses. Imagine,my parents never bought anything packaged, frozen or canned! The taste of "Fresh" is amazing! And, yes it does need a little more time to prepare. However, one can really prepare a great meal in 1/2 hour.

In addition, I have been thinking a lot about what else might fosters longevity in Ikaria. And my conclusion is: the people on that Island "flow" with life. There is an Italian proverb " Che viene, viene" Meaning--"Whatever happens, happens; we will accept it and carry on." It is similar to the Costa Rican phrase, "Pura Vida." When one flows with life, stress is reduced. Creative problem solving replaces worry.

The real meaning of health is a constant well-being-ness physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Flowing with whatever happens in our lives, un-clutching to the constant chatter in our mind and being present in the moment creates flow, acceptance and peace.

Living each moment of life fully, even with Myeloma or any other disease disability or suffering is the challenge!

How to flow with life?

Meditation is a technique that helps us to achieve this.--It is beneficial to body, mind emotions and spirit. Meditation reduces stress and benefits the immune system. There is so much research regarding this. --Check out some of the most current data. Scientists from various disciplines have been gathering the data since the 60's. (Anyone interested is some of this data can just email me.)

It is time to get over the myth that meditation is some kind of spiritual hocus pocus. Yes, it is a technique developed in the East; and yes, it does require discipline and practice--so does playing the piano, writing, creating and inventing, --almost anything we do.

We have so many wonderful therapies now for Myeloma that control this disease and prolong life. We can support this with Real Food, and with techniques that reduce stress, support our immune system, and center us so that we are not always the butt of our knee-jerk reactions, fears, judgments, anger, etc. Novel therapies and Real Food! To these, I would add Meditation and Exercise (Physical Movement of some sort).

Do I sound passionate about Meditation--Yes. I have been a practitioner for almost 40 years. And I can speak and write volumes!!

Back to Real Food--How wonderful that people are beginning to understand that what we ingest affects us. Truly, what we ingest on any level either energizes us or harms us to a greater or lesser degree!!!

Josephine, Thankyou very much for reminding me of all the many reasons for wantng to live! Please feel free to keep in touch with me, or to let me know if you have a blog I can follow etc. Your sense is the same as mine! Thank you again!

Hi Jan-- Well, you have moved me to action. I have been thinking of writing a blog on Meditation and Health for a long time. I teach Meditation at various venues including the Cancer Support Group here in Dover, DE. I have written a monthly column for the Asbury Park Press in NY. And, now it's blog time! Stay tuned.

And, thank you for your comments. We all remind and support each other in so many ways.

My contact number is: mmsupportde@comcast.net

Best wishes!

I've just started a beginning meditation class and I've found myself much more relaxed after wards. I'm only up to 20 min per day, but can feel there is something to this. I can't wait to really be in the present moment and see clearly!

Thank you so much for your comment. Meditation is a wonderful expansive journey. Enjoy!

I would love to receive some info re meditation effects on cancer if you could sent me some sites,

thanks

Jenny

Hi Jenny-- thank you for your comment. Below are a number of websites and 2 books. Hope they are helpful.
Best Wishes!

MEDITATION AND HEALTH: A BIBLIOGRAPHY

Books.

Herbert Benson, M.D. is an American cardiologist and founder of the Mind/Body Medical Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. The Relaxation Response was one of the first books on Meditation that I ever read. Benson is Mind/Body Medical Institute Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and director emeritus of the Benson-Henry Institute (BHI). He is the author or co-author of more than 175 scientific publications and 11 books. If you google him, you will find all his books and research listed.
The Relaxation Response, 1975.

Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life, John Kabat-Zinn.

Jon Kabat-Zinn is Professor of Medicine Emeritus and founding director of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Zinn is another pioneer in Mind-Body health along with Herbert Benson and so many others. This is also a great book.


Articles
Meditation , Cancer and Illness
http://www.medicaldaily.com/articles/8486/20111230/breast-cancer-mindfulness-based-stress-reduction-yaowarat-matchim-jane-armer-bob-stewart-univer.htm

http://www.psychosomaticmedicine.org/content/62/5/613.short
http://informahealthcare.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02841860802415535
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/03/paying-attention-well-being_n_1400444.html

Meditation, Stress, Memory Improvement and more
http://www.sciencealert.com.au/opinions/20122201-23031-2.html
http://europepmc.org/abstract/MED/10332925/reload=0;jsessionid=xX8wYt1t0ZsRlbmkFyTc.4
http://tech.mit.edu/V131/N61/meditation.html
http://www.dailycamera.com/features/ci_19691727



Dr. Durie--thank you for your comment. I so much appreciate all your efforts on our behalf.

Thanks Dr. Durie for taking a stand on nutrition for MM patients. I felt pleased with my own journey listening to the '12 Keys to Nutrition". It took almost three years since diagnosis for MM,Stage Three, to significantly change eating habits. Dinner is now two vegetables,a legume,a grain,and much smaller serving of meat. The change has definitely affected my carnivore partner's attitude toward vegetables.
In supermarkets, we read labels,mostly avoid center aisles, source in season vegetables locally, and shop critically out of season. Some Asian markets have become a regular part of our shopping. The local butcher's organic beef and chicken, we've discovered costs no more than the supermarket.
With diet, supplements and treatment the myeloma is finally under control and most of my old energy has returned.

We are what we eat, what we think, what we believe and what we do. Practicing spirituality in the form of meditation or prayer calms our bodies and minds. Being mindful of what we ingest is therefore for very important. Real foods in meals with ingredients as nature made them, good music, genuine friends, playful laughter, happy movement and gratitude makes the days of our life worth while. We make an effort to enjoy everyday for the gifts it contains and let tomorrow take care of itself. Yesterday we were told that for now there is no evidence of the disease. Happy words we will celebrate for now.

We really found a lot of good information in Dr. Durie's recent telephone conference regarding the value of good nutrition in the survivorship of MM. We hope there will be more of this type of information.

Thank you for this wonderful article Dr. Durie! I couldn't agree more that our society has become so far removed from eating real foods and stress reduction. I think we have gotten too caught up in the hustle of life and boggled down by all the different stress factors life can present that we often times forget to enjoy and love life. And for far too many, life is ending far earlier than it should. Each day is a gift, and being diagnosed with myeloma at 22 has taught me the value of living each day to the fullest! God bless. Thank you for all the hardwork you do for all myeloma patients!!!

Thank you so much for bringing this to our attention! I can tell you how impactful the practice albeit limited of meditation, yoga, and a healthy positive outlook on life has been on my life and health!

Thank you, again!!

Driving south from the northeast a week ago, my wife and I stopped for the night just south of Jacksonville, FL. Once settled in, I went out for take-out pizza. The man at the counter was on the phone and when he got off he apologized saying it was a family matter, his aunt had just passed on at age 93, and had a good and wonderful life. I said that I hoped he inherited those genes. He said chances were good in that regard. His grandfather just hit 101, and his grandfather's brother was as sharp as a rapier at 103. His dad was pushing 90. "I blurted out, you're not Sardinian by any chance?" His eyes popped as if "The Mentalist" just came in for a medium special. "How ever did you know?" The family all hailed from Sardinia. He was not aware of the Sardinian life cycle, which thanks to you, I was. Unfortunately, I did not ask him about their diet stateside. His long-lived forebears have been in the USA for quite some time. Made me think that perhaps the Sardinian woman who told you that "we just forget to die," might be closest to the the facts. A mind-set in the DNA? The pizza chap looked late 40s. Was 61. A diet long on pizza and red sauce no doubt. :)

Hi, i am K.S. and am keen on the topic of diet discussed so far. Just had my stem cell collection done and am waiting for a date for the transplant. I agree that diet has a impt role and I wish there is more said on the kind of nutrition which will enlighten mm patients. For eg. I somehow was told to avoid sea food except for fish. Any comment on this will be good.

I recommend a good book I recently read, �Contemplative Aging� by Edmund Sherman. Meditation is a key practice in this guide to �A Way of Being in Later Life�.
ISBN-13: 978-1-884092-99-2. Publisher Richard Altschuler & Assoc.
When people ask me, �what are you doing now that you are retired?� I simply respond that �I am no longer doing and am now being�. Meditation is an important contemplative practice and Mr. Sherman guides you through various ways to learn and master meditation.
You can also buy the book on Amazon.

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