By Dr. Kpakae Roberts, Liberian Herbalist
Although interest in this area of research was further spurred by the information I received from reading on blue Zones –geographic areas with ‘high concentrations of the world’s longest-lived people, conducting research on medicinal plants and gerontology is a daily fascination to me.
The term “Blue Zones” was coined by a journalist and explorer who, in partnership with longevity’ researchers, has spent time traveling to the healthiest corners of the world to unearth the secrets of their inhabitants. So far, at the end of his research and exploration, only five “Blue Zones” have been confirmed: 1. The rural mountainous region of Barbagia, Sardiania, Italy 2. The Island of Okinawa, Japan. This Island has the world’s highest concentration of centenarians. 3. Los Angeles, the City of Lorna Linda, US. 4. Icaria, Greece 5. Nicoya, Costa Rica Note that the exploration and research confirming the world’s high concentration of centenarians did not include any country in Africa.
This means that Africa is an exception. Perhaps, there is no area in Africa that has high concentration of centenarians, or perhaps no study of such has been undertaken in Africa. Although, it is virtually impossible to create Blue Zones in your hometown (in our hometowns in Africa or Liberia), their creation is so largely dependent on genetic, cultural, environmental and other factors as yet unknown that now requires further exploration and exhaustive research work by Liberians who are current proponents of longevity research in Liberia, which could eventually extend to other African states, beginning with West Africa, in order to declare Liberia or Africa as a “Blue Zone” area.
The confirmation of Asian, European and American countries as Blue Zone areas with the exception of Africa and none of its states, I think is biased, which is one of the reasons we have decided to establish a longevity research program in Liberia to explore also the healthiest comers of Africa, beginning first with Liberia. There is no reason that new Blue Zones cannot come into being on our continent.
After reading about these zones and their locations and inhabitants, then there occurred what I felt was a challenge and great turning point in my life. Africa is an exception. None of Africa’s member states was mentioned nor confirmed as a blue zone. This seemed to be a minor irritation, but the cleavage between Africa and other worlds – perhaps due to Africa’s inability to communicate and, eventually to participate in such research, is a deep one.
Ever hopeful ‘of discovering the secrets of centenarians,’ the link between plant- based foods or nutraceuticals; seldom consumption of animal-based foods and perfect health, I decided to look through five main factors most strongly influencing our health: our emotions and thoughts, our diet, and our rest and exercise.
Of all these five factors, the centenarians’ diet and nutrition, as they relate to human consumption of high protein foods from animal meat and dairy products which include fats, seemed to be as though one has committed a crime against oneself and the innards of society. Fat has a terrible reputation in the history of man. It is a killer that was taken regularly but could not make centenarian, in ancient days, fall off their perch, clogged to death, in what I considered the prime of their lives.
So what is about DNA and genes and the areas in which centenarians have been born and being in existence? What is their secret, as each human now living in these modem times, consume more fat than ever? I have come across many centenarians in the village places. I see them moving, often quite briskly and always with great deliberation, to take up their seats in the village square or palava hut, or under the palm wine tapper’s ,makeshift hut, or under an ancient tree – probably’ a century old ~ for an early or mid-morning nip of fresh frothing palm wine or a newly brewed cane juice.
You see them perched like a row of amiable buzzards, on a wooden bench, or stool by a memorial stone or iron pot, perhaps once used to cook festival foods in the village place, their hands with swollen black or brown knuckles clasped over the tops of their sticks; or sitting on chair or stool in the shade outside their front doors, their eyes flickering up and down the village pathways or muddy streets, missing nothing.
By today’s standards they have hard lives, working the land with little to show for their efforts but subsistence. Unlike the users of modem novelties, they had no access to skiing trips. No tennis, no golf, no cars and nothing of what is endlessly referred to as the good life. There is something reassuring’ about working to fixed and predictable rhythm of the “famine/feasting cycles”, and the harvest and farm brushing seasons were ” always busy; knowing that the famine season will be slow and quiet.
It is a pattern of life that in rural areas would probably drive most corporate executives – seething with impatience and ambition – into an early grave. Centenarians – from their young age – lead lives of sustained physical activities. And these must have been important ingredients in the recipe for ripe old age. Of all the factors most strongly influencing our health, the human body is a machine that thrives on use.
When left idle, muscles atrophy, and other working parts of the system deteriorate more rapidly than they would if subjected to regular exercise. A more primitive alternative is the kind of manual labor that comes with country life, rural aerobics necessary for existence. But as for the city (urban) dwellers, the solution to regular exercise is the jog and the gym.
Unglamorous chores like bending and stretching to prune, lifting and piling up wood, stacking logs, digging up of tree trunks, cutting brush, clearing ditches, and building of farm huts and kitchens to store farm produce like rice and pumpkin are all manual labors, but wonderful exercise. Just a day of these manual labors produces an epic crop of blisters and excruciating pain and stiffness laboriously done over a month rewards you with a feeling of well being and a distinct looseness of the waistline.
Laboriously continued lifetime works wonders for – not only – any rural dweller, but also urban dweller who engages in such manual labor that comes with country. life. The research, survey, and data collection I’ve started carrying out for the past four months – from April to date – along with the mass information provided by the centenarians in later months, has only served to confirm and strengthen my optimism about longevity research in Liberia, especially for people that were born since 1847.
Perhaps many of them could be alive if nature permits with the help of DNA and the genes. Although it is a difficult time for me where funding is the core of my success, I’m far from alone in my view of carrying out the research. A growing number of eminent people who have expressed themselves quite independently but cooperatively of this worthy undertaking, and even, prior to beginning the research work and subsequent honoring ceremony of centenarians, octogenarians and nonagenarians on July 22, 2016, by the President of the Republic of Liberia, Her Excellency, Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, are willing to countenance the belief that what I have started is for the benefit of this country. This pattern of life in rural areas would probably drive most corporate executives, seething with impatience and ambition, into an early grave.