Healthy aging study focuses on tiny Italian town

Posted at 6:06 PM, Mar 30, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-31 09:29:02-04

Could an odd combination of rosemary, anchovies, walking and smoking cigarettes be the secret to living a long life?

Researchers from UC San Diego and the University of Rome La Sapienza hope to find out for sure why hundreds of people in the tiny Italian town of Acciaroli live well past 100.

UC San Diego cardiologist Dr. Alan Maisel is heading up the U.S. side of the research. He told 10News he is flabbergasted about what he has learned about the town's residents.

"I'm seeing these old men, must be 95-years-old, looking like they're pregnant, smoking a cigarette, but they've got the beautiful tan, laughing it up," he said of a recent trip to Acciaroli, which is near the Italian city of Naples.

Maisel said that roughly 300 of the town's 1,000 residents are at least 100 years old. Dozens of them are 110 years of age.

"We think it's a matter of a certain genetic profile intermixed with the combination of what the environment brings to play," he said.

That environment includes a Mediterranean diet. Maisel specifically noticed the people there eat a lot of rosemary and anchovies. He said they also walk everywhere, which may offset the cigarettes.

"They're sitting on the beautiful beach and they're smoking cigarettes and many are heavy. Many are virtually fat," he exclaimed.

Maisel hopes the researchers can unlock some clues to long life and bring it back to places like the VA Medical Center, where he cares for military veterans.

"We have very sick patients here," he said.

Maisel said he expects the first round of results of the international study this September.

The average life expectancy in the U.S. is approximately 78 years old, with only 0.02 percent of Americans reaching 100 years of age, UC San Diego says.