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Chapter 1 - The Quest for the Fountain of Youth: Is Immortality Possible?

25 March 2023

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You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.

-Les Brown

Are disease and death preprogrammed events that leave us powerless victims to their inexorable approach? Or is the secret of vitality and longevity buried in our DNA, our molecules, cells, tissues, and biological networks, the interconnected ecosystem that is our human form? Longevity was common in biblical times. Methuselah died at 969 years old; Noah was 950 years old; Adam was 930 years old. Today the longest- lived fully documented human in history was the smoking, port- drinking, chocaholic Madame Jeanne Calment, a Frenchwoman who died at 122 years old. Emma Morano, an Italian woman who ate three eggs and 150 grams of raw meat a day, died at 117 years old. Circulating the internet is a video of an Arab man who claims to be 110 years old and is father to a seven-year-old son. In India I have heard personal reports of sages and rishis (Hindu saints) who live well past 150 years old. It could be that they have no birth records, or couldn't count, but that raises the question: What is the limit of human life? Is there one? If we aren't meant to have a limit, would you want to live to 150? Or beyond?

THE BLUE ZONES-LONGEVITY IN PRACTICE

There are places in the world where people have already cracked the code, without knowing it, resulting in unusual longevity. Dan Buettner, a National Geographic explorer and author, researched the places on Earth with the longest-lived, healthiest communities, called Blue Zones (after the color of the marker an earlier researcher used to circle them on a world map). These communities have up to twenty times the number of people reaching 100 years old or more than in the United States. What makes the communities unique is not their genetics-when Blue Zone inhabitants move to a more modern world, their disease and death rates parallel everyone else's. It is something else, something I have been on a quest to discover, which led me to visit the Blue Zones. What I witnessed has shaped how I view aging, longevity, and, frankly, living.

JOURNEYING TO SARDINIA

In the summer of 2021, with Dan's help and advice, I ventured deep into the Ogliastra region of Sardinia, the heart of Sardinia's Blue Zone, which has the longest-lived men in the world. I was guided by two native Sardinians, Eleonora Catta and Paola Demurtas, and their travel company, There, to the homes and hearths of local Sardinians, into the world of centenarians, an ancient world that has remained much the same for the last 3,000 years. The mountainous region, home to the Sardinian shepherds, is remote and landlocked and has remained inaccessible to conquerors and outside influences until recently. I heard the Sardinians' stories, witnessed their way of life, ate their ancient foods, drank their antioxidant-rich Cannonau wine.

The people of this region have preserved their ancient foodways. They still follow traditional methods of making cheese, wine, preserved meats, and olive oil and have a deep knowledge of the local plants. They understood that food was medicine even before Hippocrates! They are particular about what their goats, sheep, and pigs eat. They know that the flavors of the food come from the foods the animals eat, from the soil that feeds their plants, vegetables, and fruits. One farmer said to me, "We flavor the meat before we kill the animal." The flavor comes from phytochemicals in the plants consumed by the animals. They don't know these compounds are actually good for them. The food just tastes better. Sardinians eat some meat. They also drink goat milk, and their daily diet always includes sheep and goat cheeses.

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