Blue Zones: Where people live to be a 100 and the possible fermentation link?

Probiotic Dan
Longevity is all about living a long and healthy lifePhoto byAles Dusa/Flickr

Okay, riddle me this…If you had some milk that you would want to last longer outside of a refrigerated environment, what would you do? You would ferment it... If you had grains…if you had fruits or vegetables… you ferment them all!

(Mind you, all that fermenting does is introduce live bacteria into a product. These bacteria feed off the perishable elements of these foods, mainly the sugars and carbs to produce acids and alcohols that subsequently act as natural preservatives.)

Well, what if you had a body that you would like to last a bit longer? Would introducing the same types of live-bacteria into our bodies make them last longer?

Of course this is bush science. But, there are one, two, three, four, five, and hundreds more scientific studies that have been conducted to investigate the connection between probiotics/fermented foods and long life. The results of these are mixed, but by the time you are done reading this article, let me know your “gut” feeling.

What is the Big Deal About Fermentation?
Suspected relic of a blogger from 4000BCPhoto byGary Todd

Most of your ancestors chanced upon fermentation. Probably when a crazy redditor in the 4000 BC consumed spoilt (fermented) milk and found it swell. Like Probiotic Dan, he could not shut up about it.

Fermentation is as old as human civilization. In most civilizations, it peaks when the society has evolved enough to produce a surplus. With Japan being the modern fermentation capital of the world, you will find all manner of fermented foods and drinks there. Even the pretentious Kombucha came from them humble Japanese.

I tend to babble. So enough with the tales, and let’s get straight to the current business.

Investigating the World of Fermentation in Longevity Hotspots of the World

If fermentation was some sort of a key to long life, then we should be able to see this reflected in the regions of the world where people are most-likely to reach a 100 years right?

These regions are known as Blue zones. Blue Zones is a term given to specific regions worldwide where people live exceptionally long and healthy lives. These areas have attracted researchers’ attention in the course of humans’ unending obsession with longevity.

The five widely recognized blue zones are Sardinia (Italy), Okinawa (Japan), Nicoya (Costa Rica), Ikaria (Greece), and the Seventh-day Adventist community in Loma Linda (California, United States).

So, if people in Blue Zones are constantly clocking 100 years as if it is nothing, then they should be knee deep into the secret sauce of longevity…aka fermented products. Well, why don’t we try and find out.

How Much Fermentation is in Sardinia Italy?

Let’s start with Sardinia Italy. What are they drinking and eating?
Sardinia is all about winePhoto byDiana Robinson

Lots of wine, lots of goat milk and cheese, lots of bread, and of course vegetables and fruits are a hit here. You can check your resources for something I could have left out, but they already have three fermented staples already.

The fermented drinks include the Cannonau, Vermentino, Nuragus, Carignano del Sulcis, Bovale, and Malvasia etc.

Their most prominent cheese is the Pecorino Sardo, made from goat’s milk. And guess what, this cheese is made from lamb or kid rennet. That is stuff you find in the goats' intestines! Meaning, this cheese is made using gut microorganisms from goats…which is a Probiotic thing.

Surprisingly, you can buy organic kid rennet paste in a bottle. Wow, Who knew? We can talk about the Sardinians’ diets all day but my job for today is to investigate if there is fermented foods and probiotic-rich foods over there, which I have done. Time to move on...

How Much Fermentation is in Okinawa Japan?

We move on to the most famous Blue Zone in the world, Okinawa Japan. Living long is so common in Okinawa such that you can get four siblings all clocking 90 like its nothing. For this reason, Okinawa is known as the land of immortals.

I will cut to the chase on this one because Okinawa is full of fermented foods. Full of them, like they are everywhere. Fermented drinks they have their Awamori, Shochu, and Sake in abundance.

On their dining tables they have miso, tofu, natto, and a host of other pickled vegetables like in every meal. I saw a documentary on life in Okinwa while researching for this article and indeed they do take a lot of fermented foods. Even some smelly fermented beans (natto) that I presumed must have been disgusting…but which I am totally going to try some day. Overall, Japan has a fascinating history with probiotic foods.

How Much Fermentation is in Nicoya, Costa Rica?

Blue Zone number three, Nicoya, Costa Rica. In Nicoya, the residents regularly consume a traditional corn-based fermented beverage called pozol. This beverage is not only a part of their cultural heritage but also provides essential nutrients and beneficial microorganisms.

Pozol is mostly a non-alcoholic drink. On the other hand, Vino de Coyol is an alcoholic fermented drink that is also quite popular in Nicoya Peninsula. Coyol is made when Coyol palms are cut down, the sap ferments inside the trunk and is later extracted to create the drink. It is notably low on alcohol and high on fermentation enzymes.

From the research I conducted, there is not much in the form of fermented foods in this place, only the drinks.

How Much Fermentation is in Ikaria Greece?

We move over to Blue zone number four in Ikaria Greece. From what I have gathered, visiting here will get you a host of fermented wines. Basically, wines are a staple in Ikaria. More like a way of life, actually.

Ikaria is also home to the famed Greek yoghurt and cheese. So, again it is not hard to find fermentation culture in Ikaria.

Probiotics seem to reign supreme in Ikaria. In fact, they make a product known as belly juice, which is made using lactic acid bacteria as starting culture, with various vegetables and fruits, including apples, carrots, and beets. In fact, Ikaria Lean Belly Juice is actually a brand name of a wellness product, so you kinda get the point.

How Much Fermentation is in Loma Linda, California?
Loma Linda ViewsPhoto byJeffery Scism/Flickr

And here is our last Blue Zone; Loma Linda, California. If we find fermented products here we can agree that you are going straight to the store or to your kitchen to start fermenting, right? My bush science has four out of five proven…just one more.

Well, I looked…and I looked, and I looked even some more for any traces of fermentation culture in the Loma Linda community. I could not find out any trace of fermentation anywhere. Quite disappointing for me as a probiotic ambassador. But if you live here I would still wish to know from you if there is any fermentation going on because all my resources show nothing at all.

What I found was lots of soy products, lots of vegetables, and lots of fruits… but no fermented products stand out like in the other four blue zones.

However, while Okinawa is the most strong Blue zone, Loma Linda is the least strong. Researchers point to the fact that people in Okinawa do not suffer the same causes of death as the rest of the world. They live healthier and longer. On the other hand, people in Loma Linda die for the same causes as everyone else, just that they die later.

The Lessons

Until proven otherwise, I still believe that a Probiotic Lifestyle is an essential building block of a long and healthy life.

The consumption of fermented foods and drinks has been associated with various health benefits. These include improved digestion, enhanced gut health, strengthened immune function, increased nutrient absorption, and even reduced risks of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular ailments and certain types of cancer.

The presence of beneficial bacteria and their byproducts, such as probiotics, in fermented foods and beverages contributes to these positive effects.

What We Can Conclude

Even though this little test on blue zones and fermentation was largely inconclusive, these zones offer a compelling case for the relationship between fermented foods and drinks and longevity.

Four out of the five cultures from these regions have long embraced the consumption of fermented foods and drinks, which may be one of the contributing factors to the exceptional health and longevity observed among their inhabitants.

While further research is necessary to fully understand the mechanisms at play, incorporating more fermented foods and drinks into our diets may offer significant benefits for our overall well-being and longevity. So, why not explore the world of fermentation and introduce these traditional delicacies into our own lives?

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Probiotic Lifestyle ambassador and Philosopher. Get wise or die trying!

Boston, MA

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