April 23rd, 2009
08:29 PM ET

Herbs to ease the pain

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/04/20/art.ikaria.jpg caption="The island of Ikaria, Greece, where residents may have some secrets to living longer, healthier lives."]

Program Note: Tune in tonight to hear more on the Secrets to a Longer Life from Dan Buettner as he reports from the island of Ikaria. AC360° at 10 p.m. ET.

Dan Buettner
AC360° Contributor

This week during the Blue Zones Quest, our science team, led by the esteemed Drs. Pes and Poulain, have conducted surveys with everyone they can find on the Greek island over age 90. These surveys take hours and involve asking patient, kindhearted islanders hundreds of profound questions–like what day is it and what they ate in 1923. If you conduct enough of these surveys and some real insights emerge.

We have, for example, discovered that NO ONE here suffers dementia. This is huge. Why? Half of Americans 95 and older suffer dementia - from Alzheimer’s disease or the ravages of poor brain circulation, something called vascular dementia.

Not here on Ikaria, a small and remote island. People here are staying sharp to the very end. That means that the Ikarian lifestyle yields not only more life, but better life, too.

We've also discovered that all of the old, quick-witted grown ups had drunk teas from wild herbs for most of their lives.

In February 2008, when here on a our reconnaissance trip, I noticed that old people had an afternoon habit of picking fistfuls of herbs and seeping them in boiled water for a day’s end beverage. I also noticed that they started their day with teas brewed from dried herbs. This was an important lead. Now, if I could confirm 1. That there were compounds in them that favor health and 2. that old people have been drinking these teas most of their lives, I could make strong suggestion that these herbs explain the longevity here.

My first step was to send these herbs to the effusively helpful and consummately capable Dr. Ioanna Chinnou at the University of Pharmacology for analysis. Ioanna spends much of her day using enormously expensive machines to discover the minutest of compounds. Our Greek partners at The National Hellenic Foundation had introduced us to Ioanna. She agreed, after an international cold call, to unleash the resources of her lab to help. I sent her five Ikarian herbs—that are commonly used as teas last fall. She examined them for their medical uses and sent me a 20-page report on the good things they do. Here’s the shortened version:

Wild Mint – for gingivitis, skin diseases, flatulence, and ulcers.

Spleenwort – for gallstones and bronchial problems.

Purple Sage – for stomach aches

Rosemary – for gout and to help stave off Alzhiemer's disease;

Artemisia – to ease the pain of labor, improve blood circulation.

Most of these herbs are also diuretics - that is, they make you pee. But in so doing, they help flush our bodies of natural waste products. (If you don't pee enough, toxic nitrogen-based compounds from our cells build up and cause damage over time.) More interesting–and more likely to explain Ikaria's greater life expectancy–is that diuretics lower blood pressure in a way not unlike letting water out of a water balloon reduces pressure in the balloon.

High blood pressure is a leading cause of heart attacks and stokes. It’s also a major of cause of—get this–dementia. High blood pressure stresses out blood vessels in the brain making them more susceptible to a rupture and/or blockage. Little by little, the brain cells die from lack of oxygen and pretty soon, you forget what you ate in 1923–or even what day it is.

So, smug with the notion that our Blue Zones team has done its part to add to science, I am going to go bed. But first, I shall have a cup of wild mint tea.

Live Large,

Dan Buettner is the New York Times bestselling author of Blue Zones: What the World’s Longest-lived People Can Teach You About Living Longer FollowVote to direct his expedition.

Filed under: Global 360°
soundoff (16 Responses)
  1. meenas17

    A very credible write up. Yes herbs and condiments give relief to various disease and ailments without any side effect. One such is the Chinese herbal black tea. Another extract is from the Tulsi leaves, which acts against wheezing and bronchitis,and also cure indigestion.

    April 24, 2009 at 10:26 am |
  2. Dave Nall

    Very interesting, I have very high blood pressure do you think i can get those herbs here or there amercnized version will do the same job?


    April 24, 2009 at 10:10 am |
  3. KELLI2L

    Regarding the longevity on this Greek island (Ikaria). It's a nice story but outsiders must be reminded that the shear lack of the "hussle-bussle" that occurs on any mainland itself is a huge reason for longevity and good mental and physical health on this island. . . Coupled with the pure and unprocessed foods they ingest everyday (from the islands resources alone), are the other reason for longevity. . .
    I only hope that my anchestors on this island won't be innundated with the greedy mainlanders and other country folks who now will be looking to get these vital resources from these quiet Ikarian's, thinking it will improve their lives !!! In my opinion, the main point in this story should be "the pluses to living WAY AWAY from that "hussle-bustle"!!!

    April 24, 2009 at 6:11 am |
  4. lavander l davis

    can i buy this thick honey an where

    April 24, 2009 at 6:01 am |
  5. Merv Dalloo

    Keep me update

    April 23, 2009 at 11:27 pm |
  6. Merv Dalloo

    This is a very good survey, I hope Dan keeps it up. I am originally from Guyana (country side) and the village I am from the old folks never use any of these modern food and teas that we use today, they could't afford it, they use att types of herbs and natural grown food and those people naturally to 90+ years some even made 100+ and I can say without little complain.
    We in these developed countries are killing ourselves very fast with the kind of things we put in our bodies, (too much chemical) actually all of those herbs that Dan survey there we have in Guyana.
    I will try and follow Dan and AC360 on these herbs.
    Good work CNN, keep up the good work
    (Informing the UN-inform).

    Have a good day.


    April 23, 2009 at 11:25 pm |
  7. Erwin

    This info is good but what good is it if we can not find or use it! Where's the tea?

    April 23, 2009 at 11:11 pm |
  8. Lori

    Where do I get the honey he talked about on tonites show??

    April 23, 2009 at 11:04 pm |
  9. Evelyn Naomi

    This is great. Do they have tips on how to combat the AIDS epidemic ?

    April 23, 2009 at 11:03 pm |
  10. Marilyn Mitchell

    Great information but it would be helpful to find out where to purchase these herbs?????

    I grow rosemary and use it all the time. How do you make rosemary tea -- just steep the stems in water?

    And the bee thing I saw tonite, it would be helpful to know where I find the honey that is good for you instead of buying those plastic things with honey in it??

    I appreciate your patience with me. Looking forward to hearing from you. thanks, Marilyn Mitchell

    April 23, 2009 at 10:59 pm |
  11. Robin Rivera

    How can I puchase these herbs or plants to grow

    April 23, 2009 at 10:07 pm |
  12. Isabel

    The secrets of longevity are all there. We must use them to be healthy.

    Very interesting to know that the healthy elderly only use natural herbs and none chemical remedies. They are really healthy!

    April 23, 2009 at 9:29 pm |
  13. Teresa

    The no dementia is incredible!

    I'm wondering if the people there get vaccinations, have McDonalds/ fast food places, tons of traffic, stress,and crazy people. Do they get deliveries of Coke or Pepsi? Do they drink coffee? Also, did you find the population of Ikaria? I would love to know the answers. thx.

    April 23, 2009 at 9:21 pm |
  14. Thomas Tsuka

    In French Dandelion is called Pissenlit, which literally means piss in bed and is used quite consciously in both predestrian and in polite company, no Victorian hangups and delicacy here. In Greece it is eaten boiled with olive oil and lemon at room temperture and juices are drunk with a spot of lemon. thank you

    April 23, 2009 at 8:52 pm |
  15. Annie Kate

    I work with a lot of herbs when I make soap – it does wonders for your skin. I'm going to try finding some fennel and rosemary and start drinking teas made from them – I also thought the food showed on last nights 360 looked great and am going to try that – its certainly better than eating fast food and hopefully no one will come out with a study in 6 months that says these herbs can kill you! Here's to long life with all your faculties!

    April 23, 2009 at 8:36 pm |