Acciaroli and the secret of living better and for longer
Why people in this tiny hamlet near Salerno live longer than the rest of us?
Acciaroli longevity

Acciaroli is a little hydillic hamlet in the Salerno province, about 85 miles from Naples, in the southern Italian area of Cilento. To some, "Cilento" may sound quite familiar, as it is not only a beautiful area of Campania, but had been also named, as early as the 1950s, as the one of the places in the world where people lived longer; in fact, Cilento is quintessentially tied to US nutritionists Ancel Keys, who postulated the essential role of the mediterranean diet in supporting a longer life. Keys himself ended up moving to the area with his wife, reaching the venerable age of 100. 

What has Acciaroli to do with all this? Well, quite a lot, in fact. 

 

In Acciaroli, a hamlet of 700, one in ten people are over 100 (Fiore S. Barbato/Flickr)

 

The tiny village has been singled out by an Italian-American reasearch team looking into the factors allowing certain individuals to be more longevous than others. The group, formed by academics coming from the Università La Sapienza di Roma and the San Diego School of Medicine became interested in the area when statistic showed that more than one in ten of local population is more than 100 years old. 

 

Acciaroli and old age: the findings 

Researchers spent half a year in Cilento and found out that Acciaroli's elderly people have unexpectedly good blood circulation. Analysis conducted on blood samples from 80 residents, the UK Independent reports, showed very low levels of a hormone called adrenomedullin, which causes the widening of blood vessels: the elders of Acciaroli have the same levels of it as people between 20 and 30 years of age. 

Why is this so important? 

Because high levels of adrenomedullin cause blood vessels to contract too much, thus creating circulatory issues. To make things clearer: people in Acciaroli appear to live longer because of their extremely good circulatory system, which translates into a drastic diminution of all those pathologies associated with bad blood circulation. Dr. Alan Maisel, a cardiologist from the University of California, San Diego's team involved in the study declared to CBS that "these patients (have) amazingly adequate little, small blood vessels that gives things where we want it, and probably remove things we don't want." 

There is more: Acciaroli's inhabitants – and those of the whole Cilento area – suffer from a considerably lower amount of diseases than people from other western countries. The number of locals suffering from heart disease, Alzheimer's and obesity, researchers found out, are virtually inexistent and even a common geriatric ailment such as cataracts is nowhere to be found. 

Italian and American researchers agree on it all: the people of Acciaroli do live longer and healthier lives. 

The question is: why does this happen? 

 

Theories and hypothesis

 

Plenty of organic and seasonal fruit and vegetables are at the centre of Acciaroli's elders diet.
(Pierina Mariani/Flickr)

 

Plenty of factors are probably at play, one above them all, researchers say: eating habits. The people of Acciaroli, just like all people of Cilento, tend to follow a wholesome yet simple diet, based on typically mediterranean foods like fish and seasonal vegetables and fruits, mostly coming from their own orchards. Home reared chickens and rabbits are typical fare on Acciaroli's tables, as well. The common denominator of all these ingredients is freshness: very little is store-bought, most is reared and grown in the family's backyard, which means things are healthier and free from pesticides and dangerous chemicals. 

Interestingly, the study has revealed a higher than average consumption of rosemary in Acciaroli, and further research has been planned to find out whether the specific variety grown in the area may have something to do with the incredible health of its people. 

Dr. Maisel underlined another characteristic of Acciaroli's inhabitants which may well be playing an important role in their exceptional health: their immense "joy de vivre." The people of Cilento are laid back and stress free. They enjoy life to the full and tend to take things in strand, keeping a good smile on their faces. As silly as this may sound, it is scientifically known that lowering stress levels improves life expectancy and health in general, so there is a definite grain of truth in such an apparently superficial observation. This amazingly positive attitude towards life has been noticed also by CBS news correspondent Seth Doane, who first-hand experienced the good-humoured and positive outlook on life of Acciaroli's older generations, as well as having seen with his own eyes how healthy they are. 

And what to say about love? The elders of Acciaroli, Dr. Maisel declared to CBS News, are very much – and joyfully – active under the sheets, confirming that forgetting about being old and leaving stress out of the door makes you young in more than one way: "sexual activity among the elderly appears to be rampant. Maybe living long has something to do with that," the American cardiologist said. 

 

"Joy de Vivre" or gioia di vivere: this may be the secret to longevity in Cilento (Paolo Margari/Flickr)

 

The joined research effort of the San Diego School of Medicine and Rome's La Sapienza has certainly brought out interesting data, yet more research needs to be conducted to fully understand the Acciaroli (and Cilento) longevity phenomenon. If it seems demonstrated that the factors discussed in the article have a clear connection to it, specialists feel there may be something more to it, something genetic, which needs to be researched and analyzed more in depth in the future. 

 

The Author

Born and bred in Piedmont, I lived for 15 years in Ireland where I studied literature and history, graduating with a PhD in Classics. I love music, arts and literature and with lifeinitaly I managed to make of my passion, writing, a job. Ask me anything about Italian food or the history of World War Two and I'll gladly entertain endless conversations with you!

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