Health and Old Age Places with High Longevity: Transcaucasia Part 3

About the area of Transcaucasia in the former Soviet Union which has a high level of longevity, about the diet, daily ilfe, and routine of the people.


Although the life is hard, it is curiously without inner stress and strain. One 108-year-old Abkhazian recently told the American gerontologist Dr. Alexander Leaf that the secret of his long life was: "I never had a single enemy. I read no books and have no worries." Another, a 117-year-old man, quipped when told that few Americans attain his great age, "They're too literate." Still another, a woman of 109, explained that "people don't live so long anymore because they worry more and don't do what they want."

In these Caucasian areas of great longevity, the diet consists largely of milk in the form of cheese and buttermilk; vegetables such as green onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, and cabbage; meat including chicken, beef, young goat, and--in winter--pork; and fruits, particularly grapes. The long-lived people consume a surprising 1,700 to 1,900 calories a day, considerably more, according to Dr. Leaf, than for people of advanced age elsewhere in the world. Seventy percent of the calories come from vegetables, with an average of 70 to 90 gm. of protein which is largely derived from milk rather than meat. Cheese is eaten daily in the Caucasus, but it is low in fat content. The daily fat intake is around 50 gm.

Bread and potatoes, the staples of any Russian meal, are rarer in the Caucasus. Georgia is famous for its 2'-long loaves of flat, unleavened, crisply baked bread, which curl upward at one end and are served at the table while still hot. But in the hinterlands, particularly in Abkhazia, the bread substitute is abusta. According to Sula Benet, professor of anthropology at Hunter College in New York and author of Abkhazia: The Long Living People of the Caucasus, abusta is a patty of "cornmeal mash cooked in water without salt." It is eaten with the fingers and dipped in various sauces. Surprising, too, is the fact that food in the Caucasus is generally spicy, flavored as it is with red peppers, black pepper, garlic, and pomegranate juice.

Of the 50,000 people in Azerbaijan who are 80 or over, the majority, being Muslims, do not drink alcohol. The Abkhazians, on the other hand, drink their locally produced dry red wine, which they call "life-giving," at lunch and dinner every day. The Abkhazians, though they grow tobacco, do not as a rule smoke, while the Daghestanis do. Soviet medical authorities suggest that the Caucasian diet of buttermilk and other soured milk products, together with the numerous pickled vegetables and the wine, all combine to help destroy bacteria and "indirectly prevent the development of arteriosclerosis." Dr. Samuel Rosen of Mount Sinai Hospital of New York, during a visit to the area in 1970, credited the diet of very little saturated fat and large quantities of fruit and vegetables for the remarkably acute hearing of the aged.

In general, even at the end of their prolonged lives, these ancients, have their own teeth, fairly luxuriant hair, good eyesight, erect postures, and have never known illness or sickness. They look younger than their years, and Professor Benet, for instance, was once embarrassed in Abkhazia after making a toast to a man who looked about 70 years old. "May you live as long as Moses," she said. The man, it turned out, was already 119 and Moses had lived only to 120.

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