Italy Tops World Health Ranking

20th April 2017

What part does local produce play in their incredible life expectancy?

The Bloomberg Global Health Index has ranked Italy as the healthiest of the 163 countries included on its index. The UK comes in at 23rd and the USA at only 34th. The ranking takes into consideration life expectation and health risks such as blood pressure, smoking, obesity (the cause of the US’s relatively low ranking) and childhood malnutrition. Access to clean water and carbon emissions were also considered.

That Italy has topped this poll has left economists scratching their heads. Italy’s youth unemployment holds steady at 40%, their economic growth is low and their national debt is, quite frankly, enormous. These are not considered factors favourable to the low blood pressure and strong mental health that are evident in the Italian population.

Italy I know has always been a country rich in contradictions and mysteries. That it has left world renowned commentators and analysists scratching their heads seems, by this point in my experience with Italy, utterly standard!

The experts are now pointing again to the infamous Mediterranean diet as the reason for Italy’s good health. The abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables, lean fish and olive oil has been hailed as a dietary aim for all of us since the 1950’s when an American scientist named Ancel Keys and his wife wrote their books about the Italian diet. Keys’ experience of the Italian way of life came from his twenty-eight years spent in a village called Pioppi. Pioppi is in the Cilento peninsula, just south of Salerno, an area well known to all of us at JW European as most of our Italian production is in this region.

In 2016 researchers focused once again on the Cilento area and spent a lot of time investigating why this area has so many people who live to be over the age of 100. The research mainly focused on a village just up the coastal road from Keys’ Pioppi, Acciaroli. Acciaroli has 2000 centenarians in a population of 60,000. That’s an astounding 3% of its population!

The key difference that the researchers found in the 81 elderly people investigated was that they had extremely low levels of a hormone called adrenomedullin. They had levels that would normally be associated with people in their 20’s and 30’s in the UK. The accumulation of this hormone with age stops the micro circulation of the blood being as effective as it once was, meaning that blood stops being able to efficiently distribute nutrients and remove waste products. Scientists from the U.S were astounded by the low levels of Alzheimer’s, obesity, heart disease and cataracts seen among the elderly in the Cilento.

The more generic conclusions from the research are that the longevity of the population is due to local, fresh food, the liberal use of olive oil and daily activity walking up the village’s steep paths, coupled to some genetic honing over the years. The researchers did however notice some peculiarities around one local plant that the villagers of Acciaroli eat a lot of.  In Cilento they use a lot of the local herb production in their cooking and they are especially fond of rosemary. Rosemary has already been linked to high brain function and researchers are now homing in on the crop grown in Cilento. Early tests have found more than a dozen different compounds are present in the rosemary plants.

All of this goes to show that plants really are magic.

Also, just FYI, the rosemary we import all comes from the Cilento…!