Italian village of Acciaroli
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A view of Acciaroli, a southern Italy village
An international research team studying 300 centenarians in a remote Mediterranean fishing village say that eating rosemary could be the key to the pensioners' remarkable longevity.

A team of medical experts and scholars at the Sapienza University of Rome and University of California San Diego have been granted the first ever permission to closely study the elderly residents of the coastal hamlet of Acciaroli, south of Salerno.

Nestled between unspoilt mountain scenery and the pristine sea, Acciaroli has earned a reputation among tourists as one of the pearls of the Mediterranean — and, for foodies, of the famed Mediterranean diet. Now, the local mayor has agreed to allow the Italian and U.S. researchers to collaborate with local doctors and their patients to more systematically investigate the village's secret to a long life.

Not only do they live long, they also live well

"The goal of this long-term study is to find out why this group of 300 is living so long, by conducting a full genetic analysis and examining lifestyle behaviours, like diet and exercise," said Alan Maisel, professor of medicine at the University of California San Diego.

Researchers are puzzled with how the residents have been able to live for so long. Most are smokers and it's rare to see anyone exercising, leading to a majority of the residents being overweight.

Rosemary was an obvious starting point, the researchers say, as its health benefits have been widely studied and it is one of the ingredients used by most of the town's elderly residents.

Comment: Of course; anything but the smoking!

© Postmedia
"Rosemary is very diffused here and has been shown to have metabolic benefits for longevity so it is one of the strong factors of many we are looking at," said Salvatore Di Somma, professor of internal medicine at the Sapienza University of Rome who is leading the joint U.S.-Italian research project.

He told The Daily Telegraph that the role of high-quality olive oil, wild-cultivated herbs and vegetables, fresh local fish, and regular physical activity are also being examined. Many of the centenarians worked in the fields for decades, Di Somma noted, and still walk or ride bicycles to do their shopping and daily errands.

At the heart of the project — perhaps one of the most extensive studies of the Mediterranean diet to date — is the search for specific proteins researchers believe may be genetic markers for longevity. They will also investigate why certain illnesses are practically absent in the population. Acciaroli, with around 2,000 residents, not only has an unusually high percentage of men and women over the age of 100 — but also a remarkably low rate of heart disease and Alzheimer's.

"Not only do they live long, they also live well," Di Somma said.

The teams — made up of approximately 50 researchers, medical experts, geneticists and local doctors — will take blood samples, distribute questionnaires and study diet and lifestyle of the town's most elderly residents.

After Acciaroli, the researchers plan to take their study across Italy.

"The effect of rosemary on longevity is just one part of a hypothesis that we hope to prove in the next three to four years. It could be a very good model," Di Somma said.