[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.
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.
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 Follow. Vote to direct his expedition.
Filed under: Global 360°
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