Rosemary Could Be the Reason These Italian Villagers Live for So Long

New research from the University of California aims to find out why so many Acciaroli residents live to be 100. It could be down to their rosemary-infused diet.

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Mar 31 2016, 12:10pm

Foto von Boris Mann via Flickr

Since man first gazed at his reflection in a murky puddle and noticed an unexpected grey hair, we've been on the hunt for ways to extend our time on this earth. That elixir of life to slow the ageing process and allow us to retain our youthful glow forever. Or at least make it to our 80s without having to wear adult nappies.

Well, it might be hiding in your spice rack.

Researchers from University of California, San Diego and the University of Rome La Sapienza are joining forces to find out why residents of a remote Italian village live for so long—and they reckon it might have something to do with the liberal amount of rosemary locals infuse their dishes with.

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Citizens of Acciaroli, which sits on the coast in the country's Campania region, have already been found to have low rates of heart disease and Alzheimer's, contributing to a higher-than-average life expectancy. The 300 residents chosen to take part in the study are all over 100 years old—nearly two decades more than Italy's national life expectancy of 83 years or Britain's 81. Researchers hope that studying the Acciaroli seniors' diets and lifestyles, they will be able to uncover the key to healthy ageing.

In a press statement, Alan Maisel, professor of medicine at UC San Diego's Division of Cardiovascular Medicine said: "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."

Researchers think that the secret of Acciaroli's centenarians could be in the food. Like much of Greece and southern Italy, residents eat a Mediterranean diet—already touted for its health benefits thanks to consisting primarily of fresh vegetables, whole grains, and "healthy" fats like olive oil—but many of their dishes are also infused with rosemary.

Yep, that innocuous herb we've been digging out for lamb roasts or sprinkling on potato wedges if we're feeling fancy could be what keeps Acciaroli's citizens so sprightly. Indeed rosemary, which is native to the Mediterranean region, has been shown to have antioxidant qualities in lab tests, as well as being used to treat muscle pain and improve circulation.

Of course, there are other factors are at play here. Maisel added that Acciaroli locals combine their rosemary-rich, Mediterranean eating style with daily hikes through the mountains. In other words, living past your 80s isn't quite as simple as topping that double bacon cheeseburger with a few sprigs of rosemary earlier on in life.

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To fully explore this link between diet and healthy ageing, researchers will spend the next six months collecting blood samples, distributing questionnaires, and testing the 300 residents for risk of heart disease, Alzheimer's, and cancer.

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

Anyone for a glass of whiskey and rosemary punch?