Ikaria – the island where people forgot to die

Ikaria-2-webDiagnosed with lung cancer and announced by doctors that he had only six months to live, Statmatis Moraitis, a war veteran originally from Greece and living in the US, moved back to his native island, Ikaria, where he miraculously cured himself of the disease that was grinding him.

The story has become a true legend of local folklore, where cases of miraculous healings date back more than 25 centuries.

Dan Buettner, who writes for the New York Times Magazine, visited the island and asked experts how the residents of Ikaria manage to overcome these difficult moments of life.

According to a study, researchers were able to confirm what people in antiquity knew: the inhabitants of Ikaria live longer, succumb to diseases at a much older age and manage to have an alert mind even in old age.

Together with Dr. Gianni Pes from the University of Sassari in Italy and dr. Michel Poulain, a Belgian demographer, Dan Buettner managed to identify in 2000 a region in the province of Nuoro in Sardinia as the area with the highest concentration of centenarian men in the world.

As they reduced the research area to a group of villages located at great heights in the Nuoro Mountains, scientists were able to draw a blue ink border on the world map and began to call the area inside the “imaginary borders” aswell as the “blue zone”.

Since 2002 they have been able to identify three other populations around the world where people had longer lives than anywhere else.. The women who live the longest around the world are on the island of Okinawa.

Yakaryans live on average 8-10 years longer

ikaria-residentsDan Buettner and his colleagues continued to look for “pools” of longevity, so in 2008 they began to investigate Ikaria.

The study tried to go beyond the idea of stories and identify concrete data on longevity in Ikaria . After gathering all the available data, Poulain and his colleagues at the University of Athens concluded that the inhabitants of Ikaria were reaching the age of 90 2.5 times more than the Americans did.

Ikarian men in particular were four times more likely to reach the age of 90 than their American counterparts, and most of the time they were in much better health.

Moreover, Ikarians lived on average 8-10 years longer before succumbing to cancer and heart disease, and suffered less from depression, and Alzheimer’s disease had a quarter lower incidence than in other countries. In Ikaria, people managed to keep their minds alert until the end of their lives.

Where is Ikaria and what are her secrets?

ikaria-locationIkaria, an island of about 256 square kilometers, is inhabited by about 10,000 Greeks, and is located 50 kilometers away from the west coast of Turkey. Before the Christian era, the island was home to oak forests and productive vineyards. The island’s reputation as a healthy destination dates back more than 2500 years, when Greeks traveled here to bathe in the hot springs near Therma.

Wanting to learn more about the mysteries of the island and the longevity of its inhabitants, the researchers also asked for help from Dr. Ilias Leriadis, one of the few doctors on the island of Ikaria.

He revealed some of the secrets of the inhabitants, after preparing a meal with olives, hummus, Ikarian bread and wine: “Here the world stays awake until late, we wake up late and we always rest during the day. Here no one wears a watch to hand, and no watch works properly. When you invite someone at noon they can come at ten in the morning or at six in the evening. We just don’t care what time it is. Here we don’t care about money and wealth. When we celebrate religious or cultural events, people use the money to buy wine and food. If there is money left, they give it to the poor. Ikaria is not a place where the word ‘I’ is used. Ikaria is an island where only the word ‘we’ is used.”

ikaria-secretIkaria’s unusual past may explain why, in this place, there is a state of communion between people. The strong winds that swept over the island and the lack of ports kept it away from the main shopping roads. This kept Ikaria in some isolation, having to self-manage.

Leriadis also talked about Local “mountain tea”, made from dried herbs, and which is drunk as a cocktail at the end of the day. He also mentioned wild marjoram, sage (flaskomilia), a type of mint tea (fliskouni), rosemary and a drink made from dandelion leaves cooked with a little lemon. All these plants can be considered true herbal medicines.

In Ikaria, honey is a universal remedy.
“There are types of honey here like you’ve never seen anywhere in the world before,”
says Leriadis. Honey is used as a treatment for wounds, hangovers or for the treatment of flu. The elders start their day with a spoonful of honey. “For them it’s like a medicine.”

Anti-aging nutrition

ikaria-dietOver the next three years, the researchers met some of Leriadis’ patients.

The daily routine of most of the inhabitants turned out to be exactly as Leriadis described it: they wake up naturally, work in the garden, have a late lunch, and then rest. At sunset, neighbors visit each other.

Their diet was typical: a breakfast consisting of goat’s milk, wine, sage tea or coffee, honey and bread. Lunch was almost always made up of beans, lentils, potatoes, herbs (fennel, dandelion or spinach) and other seasonal vegetables they produced in their garden. At dinner, bread is eaten and goat’s milk is drunk.

Dr. Ioanna Chinou, a professor at the University of Athens, is one of the European experts regarding the bioactive properties of herbs and natural products. She said of the longevity of the Ikarians that it is largely due to the large amount of tea they drink, especially because these types of drinks they consume are traditional Greek remedies.

These plants fight gingivitis, gastrointestinal disorders and improve blood circulation. Also, most plants have strong antioxidant properties, are important sources of polyphenols and contain weak diuretics.

“Beauty sleep” has its purpose

ikaria-streets-desertedMeanwhile, Gianni Pes and Michel Poulain conducted further research on the lifestyle that people in Ikaria approached, asking 35 subjects how much they sleep or if they have ever smoked. They then tested the physical, cognitive functions, mental agility and mental health of the interviewees.

Dr. Christina Chrysohoou, a cardiologist at the University of Athens, conducted a survey that involved the analysis of 673 Ikarians. Chrysohoou suspected that the Ikarians’ sleep and sex habits might have something to do with their long lives.

She found that daytime sleep is associated with a 12% reduction in the risk of coronary heart disease, but if this is done regularly, at least three days a week, the reduction was 37%. Also, a preliminary study of Ikaryan men between the ages of 65 and 100, identified that 80% of them made love on a regular basis!

The “invisible threads” that bind people together

ikaria-people-oldsThe social structure has a rather important role. In Sardinia, a cultural mentality based on the appreciation of elders manages to keep them involved in the community and in the homes of families until they reach the age of 100.

Studies have shown that early retirement among workers in industrialized economies reduces life expectancy. An attitude like the one in Sardinia causes centenarians to get up from bed and take part in various physical activities, to guide the community spiritually or to pass on local traditions to children.

If you pay attention to how Ikarians have lived their lives, it seems that dozens of powerful, ubiquitous factors are involved in this characteristic of longevity, desired by everyone. It’s easy to get enough rest if no one else wakes up early and the city is deserted at noon when everyone takes a nap. It is helpful that the most affordable and cheapest foods are also the healthiest, and that your ancestors have worked for hundreds of years to discover ways to make them taste good. It’s hard to get a day in Ikaria without having to climb the hills.

Here you do not feel the existential pain of not belonging to the place or the stress of not being late somewhere. You make your own garden, because that’s what your parents did and that’s what your neighbors do. You are less likely to be the victim of a crime because everyone knows exactly what the person next to him is doing. In the evening you drink a few glasses of wine and mountain tea in the company of good friends, and on Sunday you go to church.

In Ikaria, even if you’re antisocial, you’ll never be alone.


Ikaria-veteran-3-webLet’s go back a little bit to the story of war veteran Statmatis Moraitis, cured of cancer.

Buettner called Moraitis a few weeks ago. His wife died in the spring at the age of 85, and now lives alone. After a brief discussion of what he did that day, Buettner asked him one last question: How do you think you’ve been able to recover from lung cancer?”

“It’s just gone,” Moraitis replied. “I went to America 25 years ago to see if the doctors could explain to me how this miraculous healing happened,”

he added. “And what happened?”

asks Buettner.
“My doctors are dead!”
replies Moaritis.

Buettner came to a conclusion regarding people’s longevity, and said, “for people to adopt a healthy lifestyle they must live in an ecosystem.”

For example, Americans may try to eat healthy, but “the processed food industry spends over $4 billion a year to tempt us to consume their products. How can we combat that?”

source: article taken from the www.financiarul.ro website

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