Five things “The Blue Zones” gets wrong about longevity…

finished this interesting (yet a bit out of date) investigational health title, The Blue Zones, a mere 50 meters from a white sand beach crashed upon by the black sea here in Bulgaria. It’s about five special places in the world that have a statistically outstanding number of centenarians, I actually spent some time in one of the places.

But before I get into this book review let me drop a lifehack on you for improving your semantic memory — for remembering more of what you read from books like this — SuperMemo, a free flashcard app. When I read books, stuff I want to remember I highlight in orange, and upon finishing the book copy & paste the highlights into the SuperMemo web app.

What are blue zones?

When we first set out to investigate the mysteries of human longevity, we teamed up with demographers and scientists at the National Institute on Aging to identify pockets around the world where people live the longest, healthiest lives. These are the places where people reach age 100 at rates significantly higher, and on average, live longer, healthier lives than Americans do. They also suffer a fraction of the rate of killer diseases that Americans do. We worked with some of the world’s top longevity experts to distill lifestyles into the characteristics that could help explain their extraordinary longevity.

Their cultures have evolved this wisdom over time. Just as nature selects for characteristics that favor the survival of a species, I believe that these cultures have passed on positive habits over time in a way that most favors the longevity of their members.

Where are the blue zones?

the Barbagia region of Sardinia in Italy, Okinawa in Japan, the community of Loma Linda in California, the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica, and the Greek island of Ikaria.

The Sardinian Blue Zone

Sounds magical!

The population there appeared to be the longest-lived in Italy, perhaps even in the world. In one village of 2,500 people, he said, he’d found seven centenarians — a staggering number, given that the ratio for centenarians in the U.S. is roughly one per 5,000.

About the Sardinian diet…

In 26 of 71 municipalities surveyed, meat is a luxury eaten only during festivals, not more than twice a month. Interestingly for a Mediterranean culture, fish did not figure prominently into the diet.”

When compared to cow’s milk, goat’s milk delivers a powerful nutritional punch: One glass contains 13 percent more calcium, 25 percent more vitamin B6, 47 percent more vitamin A, 134 percent more potassium, and 3 times more niacin. Results of a 2007 University of Granada study found that it may also be better at preventing iron deficiencies and mineral losses in bones.

Sardinian men are extraordinarily long-lived, their character is described thusly…

strong will, high self-esteem, and great stubbornness.

Those sound like good things for a man to aspire to!

The Blue Zone in Okinawa

Eat sweet potatoes!

Things improved a little in 1605 when an Okinawan brought the sweet potato back with him from China. This hardy miracle tuber thrived just fine in Okinawa’s stingy soil and weathered its typhoons and monsoons. It was a boon for peasants, quickly becoming a staple.

The tuber was so ubiquitous that before World War II, instead of saying hello, islanders greeted each other by saying, Nmu kamatooin, which translates as, “Are you getting enough imo?”

“Hara hachi bu” — eat to 80% full.

It’s a Confucian-inspired adage,” Craig chimed in. “All of the old folks say it before they eat. It means ‘Eat until you are 80 percent full.’

The American Blue Zone

Loma Linda, California ranks among the Blue Zones because of its Adventist community.

For Adventists, healthiness is next to Godliness.

Go easy on the meat

One of the key discoveries of the AHS-1 survey was that approximately half of the Adventists were vegetarians or rarely ate meat…

Go nuts!

Recent findings from a large study of Seventh-day Adventists show that those who ate nuts at least five times a week had a rate of heart disease that was half that of those who rarely ate nuts. A health claim about nuts is among the first qualified claims permitted by the Food and Drug Administration. In 2003, the FDA allowed a “qualified health claim” that read: “Scientific evidence suggests but does not prove that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease.”

Drink more water — this is something Adventists do.

According to the Mayo Clinic, it takes an average of 8 cups of water (along with a healthy diet) to replace what your body uses normally every day. Moderate exercise increases the amount by 1 to 2 cups.

Drinking more water is a low-hanging fruit biohack that many fail to do simply because water is boring! If you want to increase your water intake reliably, I strongly recommend getting an Infopathy device — this “imprints” on a glass of water almost any drug or supplement. Which sounds wild, I know, but there’s decent scientific evidence for the effects of infocueticals — at the least, they get you drinking more water!

The Aegean Blue Zone

The Ikarian diet:

Ikarians consumed about six times as many beans a day as Americans, ate fish only twice a week, consumed meat five times a month, drank up to six cups of coffee a day, and took in about a quarter as much refined sugar — the elderly did not like soda. She also discovered high levels of olive oil consumption and two to four glasses of wine a day.

A story I love…

One day at work, Stamatis, now in his early 60s, felt short of breath. It seemed to be happening more and more often. He fatigued quickly. Climbing stairs was a chore. Often he was forced to put down his brush by midday. His doctor took x-rays and quickly concluded that Stamatis had lung cancer, perhaps from years of inhaling paint fumes or his three-pack-a-day smoking habit. Stamatis wasn’t sure why. Four more doctors confirmed the diagnosis. They gave him six to nine months to live.

Stamatis considered staying in Boynton Beach, where he could seek aggressive cancer treatment at the local hospital. That would allow him to remain close to his three children, who were now adults. Or, it occurred to him, he could return to Ikaria. There, he could be buried with his parents in a sloping cemetery shaded by oak trees overlooking a cobalt blue Aegean Sea. A funeral in Boynton Beach would cost at least $1,200, while a nice funeral in Ikaria would cost only about $200, leaving more of his retirement savings for Elpiniki. He decided to die among his countrymen and ancestors.

Stamatis and Elpiniki moved in with Stamatis’s elderly parents in a tiny, whitewashed house on two acres of rolling vineyards

At first, he spent his days in bed, as his mother and wife tended to him. Sensing the end was near, he decided to reconnect with his religion. On Sunday mornings, he forced himself out of the house and hobbled up the hill to a tiny Greek Orthodox chapel where his grandfather had once served as a priest. When his childhood friends discovered that he had moved back, they started visiting him regularly. They would talk for hours, invariably bringing him the locally produced wine, which he sipped all day long. What the hell, he thought, I might as well die happy.

In the ensuing months, something strange happened. He started to feel stronger. He got out of bed in the afternoon and shuffled around the gardens and vineyards behind the house. One day, feeling ambitious, he planted some potatoes, green onions, garlic, and carrots. He didn’t expect to be alive to harvest them, but he enjoyed feeling the sunshine, breathing the clean ocean air, and getting his hands dirty with the soil of his birth. Elpiniki could enjoy the fresh vegetables after he was gone.

Six months came and went. Stamatis didn’t die. Instead, he harvested that garden and, feeling emboldened, cleaned up the family vineyard as well. Easing himself into the island routine, he woke up late, worked in the vineyards until mid-afternoon, made himself lunch, and then took a long nap. In the evenings, he either drank wine with friends at home or walked to the local tavern where he stayed up past midnight playing dominoes. The years passed. His health continued to improve. He added a couple of

rooms to his parents’ homestead so his children could visit. He built up the vineyard, producing 400 gallons of wine a year. Today, 35 years later, he is 100 years old and cancer-free. He never went through chemotherapy, took drugs, or sought therapy of any sort. All he did was move to Ikaria.

“It just went away,” he said. “I actually went back to America about ten years after moving here to see if the doctors could explain it to me.” “What happened?” I asked. “My doctors were all dead.”

But don’t get the wrong idea, the cure for cancer is not Ikaria but often nonintervention, as I discussed in my interview with the author of The Cancer Industry.

The Costa Rican Blue Zone

I visited one of the Blue Zones — the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica — about a decade ago…

About the Nicoyan Blue Zone…

Costa Rica spends only 15 percent of what America does on health care, yet its people appeared to be living longer, seemingly healthier lives than people in any other country on Earth.

Gianni observed that the more daughters a man has, the longer he lives; that people born in winter seem to live longer than those born in the summer, and that people who think they’re going to live longer actually do.

Pure Vida = Promiscuity?

He also grew corn, beans, and vegetables to feed his wife and six children. “I also had two kids with a village girl,” he said matter-of-factly, out of nowhere. “Didn’t your wife care?” I asked. “I don’t know,” he shrugged. “We didn’t talk about it.” He went on to tell me, unapologetically, that he never gave the children his name nor did he ever support them. “How do I know if they’re going to turn out okay?” he exclaimed as if explaining his actions.

If you’ve ever visited Costa Rica you’ve heard “Pura Vida” (pure life) a lot and it belies this really cavalier attitude that Costa Ricans have about almost everything, especially producing bastard children — which the book suggests might have something to do with their longevity. This is pretty stupid, I don’t see any way that promiscuity could be good for longevity; promiscuity results in a lot of stress, it dramatically increases the risk of venereal disease infections, and children raised by single parents tend to live less healthy lives.

In the podcast, I share a funny story about getting lost in rural Nicoya coming home from salsa classes one evening.

What “The Blue Zones” is wrong about…

I must deduct two stars because the book is a little out of date and incorrect about a few things. In the first chapter, we run into this…

Order: The Blue Zones, Second Edition: 9 Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest

The idea of discovering a magic source of long life still has so much appeal today, five centuries later, that charlatans and fools perpetuate the same boneheaded quest, whether it comes disguised as a pill, diet, or medical procedure. In an all-out effort to squash the charlatans forever, demographer S. Jay Olshansky of the University of Illinois at Chicago and more than 50 of the world’s top longevity experts issued a position statement in 2002 that was as blunt as they could fashion it.

“Our language on this matter must be unambiguous,” they wrote. “There are no lifestyle changes, surgical procedures, vitamins, antioxidants, hormones, or techniques of genetic engineering available today that have been demonstrated to influence the processes of aging.

Bullshit!

Amazingly they are denying basic cause and effect — your lifestyle has NO effect on the process of aging — along with an incredible amount of gold standard science demonstrating that lifestyle changes and things like vitamin supplementation make all the difference in aging. Why the hell would they put their names on such as absurd position statement?

I looked up this Olshansky guy and he’s with the School of Public Health at the University of Illinois. Red pill: “Public health” professionals do not give a damn about health, what they are interested in is human herd management. They see us as tax livestock — they see us the same way that big food corporations see those cows in cages in factory farming operations. In the decade that I’ve been into biohacking, I’ve NEVER seen a public health professional advance any pragmatic health measure into the public arena. These people are worse than useless, and they don’t actually want us healthy, they want us all to be perpetual customers of the hospital-pharmaceutical industrial complex.

The book suggests a few times that daily alcohol consumption might be healthy — apparently, they drink a lot there in Sardinia…

her father drank a liter of Sardinian wine every day of his adult life, and more during festivals

“A little alcohol a day is actually healthy” is a debunked myth that was all the rage in the early 2000s that comes out of red-wine-industry-funded bad science. Polyphenols and the Resveratrol in red wine are certainly healthy, but, don’t fool yourself, drinking daily is not helping your longevity. I enjoy drinking, sometimes daily even — a glass of wine with dinner — but I do all the other anti-aging biohacks so I can get away with this indulgence.

It recommends soy as a “health food!”

Okinawans eat an average of three ounces of soy products per day. Tofu, their main source of soy, may play a role in reducing the risk of heart disease. Greg Plotnikoff recommended that consumers select fermented soy products over nonfermented soy products whenever possible.

It highly recommends Tumeric…

Did you notice all the turmeric? Turmeric is one-fifth as powerful as cisplatin, which is one of the most powerful drugs in chemotherapy. Turmeric is an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anticancer. This comes back to inflammation. Many age-related diseases are caused by an immune system out of balance. Excessive or unnecessary inflammation accelerates heart disease, bone loss, Alzheimer’s disease. Antioxidants found in vegetables and herbs are also important, because the same oxidation process that rusts our cars also deteriorates our bodies.

But fails to mention that most Turmeric is rife with toxins. Unless you’re getting spectroscopy-verified actual Turmeric, you’re not going to be getting all the fantastic health benefits of the stuff that you’ve heard so much about. The most credible, actually organic, source I know of is the Health Ranger store in Texas.

The book mentions fasting just once and seems to recommend caloric restriction — eating to just 80% more — and caloric restriction is a legitimate anti-aging strategy. BUT we know now that fasting is a better form of caloric restriction and it’s a lot easier to do than eating to 80% — with fasting you are giving your body a break from resource-intensive metabolism. Only eating to 80% is going to take an incredible amount of self-control! To draw a very crude comparison…

I’ll also add that the premise of the book itself is somewhat dubious — that what empowers health for people in one place, in one culture might make other people healthier in other places. For example…

Beans are a cornerstone of each of the Blue Zone diets.

We know now that beans and legumes are problematic because of lectins (which royally f*ck us) — especially if your ancestors didn’t eat a lot of them. There are real genetic differences in metabolism between Northern Europeans, Asians, Arabs, Blacks, Mestizos, etc — when considering any diet or lifestyle change for longevity’s sake consider how your ancestors lived for thousands of years. As a dude of Anglo-Saxon extraction, I don’t think I’ll make it into the centenarian club downing four glasses of wine a day like a Mediterranean Ikarian.

It turns out that I read the first edition of the book, published in 2008 — the second edition was published in 2012 and is available here on Amazon.

The three Fs of longevity

There are three strong commonalities among the blue zone centenarians; family, faith, and fitness. About that first F…

It would be hard to overestimate the importance of family in the Blue Zone. According to Dr. Luca Deiana, who has studied centenarians for more than a decade, some 95 percent of those who live to 100 in Barbagia do so because they have a daughter or granddaughter to care for them. Grandparents provide love, childcare, financial help, wisdom, expectations, and motivation to perpetuate traditions and push children to succeed. This may add up to healthier, better adjusted, and longer-lived children, and it seems to certainly give the population a healthy bump in longevity.

Old-age homes don’t exist in the world’s Blue Zones. A combination of family duty, community expectations, and genuine affection for elders keeps centenarians living with their families.

About faith…

Indeed, thinking back, I realized that most of the 200 centenarians I had met believed in a similar guiding power. The Seventh-day Adventist faith was rooted in a strong faith tradition; Okinawan elders believed that their deceased ancestors watched over them; and Sardinians were devout Catholics.

The fact that God is in control of their lives relieves any economic, spiritual, or well-being anxiety they might otherwise have. They go through life with the peaceful certitude that someone is looking out for them.”

Studies have shown that attending religious services — even as infrequently as once a month — may make a difference in how long a person lives. A recent study in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior followed 3,617 people for seven and a half years and found that those who attended religious services at least once a month reduced their risk of death by about a third. As a group, the attendees had a longer life expectancy, with an impact about as great as that of moderate physical activity.

If you’re an atheist materialist you may be philosophical, but — don’t fool yourself — you’re a universe away from being pragmatic!

On fitness…

Longevity all-stars don’t run marathons or compete in triathlons; they don’t transform themselves into weekend warriors on Saturday morning. Instead, they engage in regular, low-intensity physical activity, often as part of a daily work routine.

Speaking about the long-lived Sardinian men…

As a rule, they had worked hard their whole lives as farmers or shepherds. Their lives unfolded with daily and seasonal routines. They raised families who were now caring for them.

In conclusion…

The book gets just three stars from me; a lot of the longevity tips in it are pretty obvious things, some of the science is out of date, and I hate that discouraging passage in the first chapter.

Originally published on LimitlessMindset.com. I’m not a doctor, medical professional, or trained therapist. I’m a researcher and pragmatic biohacking practitioner exercising free speech to share evidence as I find it. I make no claims. Please practice skepticism and rational critical thinking. You should consult a professional about any serious decisions that you might make about your health.

Adventuring philosopher, Pompous pontificator, Writer, K-Selected Biohacker, Tantric husband, Raconteur & Smart Drug Dealer 🇺🇸