Tag Archives: red wine

The secret to Sardinian Longevity

800px-Sardegna_-_Lago_Omodeo

Lake Omodeo, Sardinia. Source – Wikipedia

Sardinia is a beautiful, mountainous island in the Mediterranean sea that is an autonomous region of Italy. One of the most interesting things about the people of this island is the very high level of centenarians or people who live to 100 and beyond among them. More interesting still, unlike other longevity hot-spots around the world(like Okinawa, Japan), the sex ratio is very low, almost 1:1. This is remarkable because centenarians are overwhelmingly female in other countries. The number of centenarians per capita in Sardinia is an astonishing 20 times higher than in the U.S. What is their secret?

Why there are so many centenarians in Sardinia, and why the sex ratio is so low in particular is the focus of ongoing research. It’s obviously due to a mixture of genes, diet, culture, and climate. Genes unique to Sardinian men are thought to protect them from heart disease. Their diet is also quintessentially Mediterranean, including a special type of red wine that is so dark Italians of the mainland call it vino nero or “black wine”. Usually the darker the wine, the more antioxidants. They also eat a special type of cheese that I will explain in detail below. According to International Business Times in Sardinia’s Secret To Longevity: Genetics, Diet and Lifestyle:

The secret to Sardinians’ long life is the subject of study of a project called AKeA – an acronym for “A kent’ annos,” a traditional toast in the Sardinian culture that means “May you live to be 100 years.”

The leading researcher, Luca Deiana from the University of Sassari in northwest Sardinia, found that genetics play a key role, observing that it is generally in the central-eastern mountainous region that longevity is most common.

The ruggedness of the geography has repelled invaders for centuries, and there has been little intermarriage with outsiders since then, thereby preserving some of the beneficial genetic traits.

For example, Deiana, along with his team of 25 Italian doctors and biologists, identified a gene in the Y chromosome that can greatly reduce heart attack and stroke in men.

This gene, passed down from fathers to sons, can explain the ratio of male-female centenarians in the region, which is about 1-1, while the ratio is generally 1-4 all around the world.

Diet is also considered to be crucial — as the Sardinian diet is rich in healthy nutrients from fresh locally grown vegetables, prepared simply with olive oil and served with lemon, garlic and other spices.

It is not surprising that they eat little meat and eat a lot of vegetables. This is generally associated with longevity around the world. It is also interesting to note that the highest rate of centenarians in Sardinia is in a region that had long remained pagan even after the rest of Sardinia converted to Christianity. This is in the hilly eastern-central region of the island, in the province of Nuoro. They eventually converted to Christianity by the early middle ages. It seems that whatever helped hill-country Sardinia remain a pagan paradise for so long is also helping them maintain a very healthy lifestyle.

Another interesting thing about the Sardinian diet, and I bolded something that may make some of you feel sick for emphasis, in On the Table in Sardinia: Red Wine, Bread and Cheese:

Diet Stresses Less Fish, and Special Cheese

Surprisingly, though, he doesn’t place too much emphasis on the importance of fish. He says that in the so-called Blue Zones — the areas of the world he’s studied where people live the longest — fish consumption doesn’t seem to be overemphasized.

“The longest-lived diets don’t include a lot of fish,” Buettner said. “If you’re gonna … include protein in your diet, I suggest this cheese that the Sardinians eat.”

The cheese, called pecorino sardo, is made from the milk of grass-fed sheep, resulting in a product that is high in Omega-3 fatty acids.

Sardinia is also known for having another kind of cheese — one that actually is infested with live maggots.

That cheese may contain bacteria that are good for the gut.

“We don’t know,” Buettner acknowledged. “We just know the longest-lived men in the world eat this. And they eat it as a manifestation of toughness.”

Maggot cheese! How long before this unique Sardinian delicacy becomes the next big thing at health food stores?

The mighty flaxseed

It is for good reason that many people sing the praises of flaxseeds. I’ve even written songs about them; some people may love to sing about red wine or cocktails, but I prefer singing about flaxseeds.

Brown_Flax_Seeds

Source: Wikipedia

They are a very healthful addition to any diet, due to their unique nutritional contents that are difficult to get elsewhere. Not only are they a great source of fiber, but they also contain the essential fatty acid ALA, and also contain lignans which have phyto-estrogen effects.

Flaxseed has a lot of ALA(alpha-linolenic acid), which is one of the 3 main types of omega 3 fatty acids which are essential for the body’s metabolism. The 2 other types of omega 3s, EPA(eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA(docosahexaenoic acid), are not found in flaxseed, but are plentiful in fish oil. The body has a very limited ability to convert ALA to EPA or DHA, so we are better off getting it through diet. Omega 3s are important because they help suppress inflammatory processes that may be damaging to the heart or other organs. The benefits of DHA are so widely recognized that many food companies fortify their products with it. DHA and the other omega 3s are particularly important for pregnant and nursing women, since DHA is needed for optimal brain growth.

If we look at a randomized, controlled study of omega 3 and omega 6 supplementation on children reported in Pediatrics. 2005 May;115(5):1360-6. – The Oxford-Durham study: a randomized, controlled trial of dietary supplementation with fatty acids in children with developmental coordination disorder.

“No effect of treatment on motor skills was apparent, but significant improvements for active treatment versus placebo were found in reading, spelling, and behavior over 3 months of treatment in parallel groups. After the crossover, similar changes were seen in the placebo-active group, whereas children continuing with active treatment maintained or improved their progress.”

This study wasn’t about flaxseed per se, but did use a fatty acid that is found in flaxseed. Flaxseeds may be helpful for preventing prostate cancer:

“Findings suggest that flaxseed is safe and associated with biological alterations that may be protective for prostate cancer. Data also further support low-fat diets to manage serum cholesterol.”

This is really impressive, and this just involves the omega 3s in flaxseed. The lignan content of flaxseeds are a whole other exciting ball game. Flaxseeds are by far the best source of lignan, containing hundreds of times more than almost all other plant foods. Lignans are phyto-estrogens(similar to the phyto-estrogens in soy) and may help prevent breast cancer, according to research done at Linköping University, due to their powerful hormonal effects. They may not only lower blood estrogen levels but may also lower testosterone levels. The testosterone lowering effect may concern some men, but I don’t think it is a cause for alarm based on the evidence. More research is obviously needed, but I’ll continue to sing about them in the mean time.

The best way to eat flaxseeds is to ground them yourself in a small coffee-grinder, or to use the oil as a supplement or salad dressing. Never use the oil for cooking, omega 3s aren’t heat stable. Flaxseeds also contain significant amounts of protein and minerals. No wonder many people call it a “Super Food”.