Stamatis Moraitis, the dear “grandpa” of international media, who did not remember his exact age – 98 or 102- passed away, 36 years after doctors had diagnosed him with lung cancer.
At the time, nine other doctors confirmed the diagnosis, and had given him nine months to live.
In several interviews he had confided that the secret of his longevity was the wine of his own production and Ikarian products. Moraitis thought of staying in the USA, where he went to receive cancer treatment.
He returned to Ikaria to live the rest of his life. He refused to undergo chemotherapy and did not accept the medication American doctors had prescribed. All he cared about was his garden and his parents’ vineyards. The peak of irony is that when he returned to America to visit his doctors, as his health gradually improved, he found out that they had all died.
“I expected to die, but it just was not happening. At night, I walked up to the tavern where I was playing backgammon and drinking wine with my friends until midnight,” he said in an interview.
The inhabitants of a small Greek island live on average 10 years longer than the rest of western Europe. So what’s the secret to long life in Ikaria?
It could be the fresh air and the friendly, easy-going, open-door lifestyle. It could be fresh vegetables and goat’s milk.
It could be the mountainous terrain. Everywhere on Ikaria is up, or down, so getting around keeps you fit.
It could even be the natural radiation in the granite rocks. But Stamatis Moraitis thinks he knows what it is.
“It’s the wine,” he says, over a mid-morning glass at his kitchen table. “It’s pure, nothing added. The wine they make commercially has preservatives. That’s no good. But this wine we make ourselves is pure.”
Stamatis celebrated his 98th birthday on New Year’s Day. He says he’s older, but his documents put his date of birth as 1 January 1915. Outside his whitewashed house are his beloved olive trees, his fruit trees, and his vines. He makes about 700 litres of wine a year, he says.
“Do you drink it all yourself?” I ask. “No!” He’s shocked at the suggestion. “I drink it with my friends.”
There are lots of stories like this one on Ikaria. Some may well be just stories, but in recent years scientists and doctors have beaten a path to the island not far off the coast of Turkey to find out the real story.
Ikaria got its name from the Greek myth of Icarus who, legend has it, plunged into the sea close to the island when his wax and feather wings melted. For centuries it was known as a health destination because of natural hot springs on the island.
More recently it has been identified as one of a small number of so-called “blue zones” by the author Dan Buettner and National Geographic, where residents enjoy great longevity. Other places include Okinawa in Japan, Sardinia in Italy, and Loma Linda in California.
As the years rolled by Stamatis’ health continued to improve. Thirty years after his diagnosis he realized that he wasn’t going to die from cancer after all. At the ripe age of 97, Stamatis summoned the courage to submit to a medical exam to confirm his belief that he was cancer free. He wanted to know what had happened to him and why he didn’t die.
His doctors thoroughly examined him and reviewed his medical records. Not only did they give him a clean bill of health, he also learned at the same time that all the doctors who had predicted he would die in nine months if he didn’t submit to chemo had died – all of them were dead! Meanwhile, Stamatis lived on until the age of 102, and when he did die it wasn’t from cancer!
There are many significant factors about the islanders’ lifestyle which might contribute to their longevity.
Even compared to a typical Mediterranean diet, Ikarians eat a lot of fish and vegetables, and relatively low levels of meat.
Six out of 10 of people aged over 90 are still physically active, compared with about 20% elsewhere. Most food is cooked in olive oil. Large quantities of wild greens and herbs are gathered from the hillsides for both food and medicinal purposes.
Many older people make a daily brew of mountain tea from dried herbs such as sage, thyme, mint, and chamomile, and sweeten it with honey from local bees. “It cures everything,” claims Stamatis.
Many of the wild herbs are used by people all over the world as traditional remedies. They are rich in antioxidants and also contain diuretics which can lower blood pressure.
“We don’t have nightclubs or discos,” he says, as people chinked glasses filled with red wine poured from large plastic flagons. “The door is always open, there’s no need to call and ask to come.”
source: The New York Times