Rosemary or sex - are the secrets to longevity in Italy?

KEEPING busy, good genes and low stress are factors that experts believe contribute to the longevity of people living in Acciaroli in Naples, Italy.

The fishing village attracts experts due to the 81 people in the 600-strong town who are in their 90s, but it's the rosemary in one woman's vase that has these scientists so excited.

Maria Vassallo, 95, bustles around her daughter's restaurant kitchen, giving orders, rolling pasta and baking cakes.

"I help out because if I stop doing things, I get sick," Mrs Vassallo told The Australian.

The specialists suspect a link between molecules, called metabolites, and consumption of rosemary and other wild herbs and vegetables, such as mint and chicory.

After taking blood samples, the team spotted the metabolites, a type not seen ­before.

These may be pushing ­nutrients down tiny blood ­vessels to the brain and organs, ensuring heart conditions, Alzheimer's disease and cataracts are almost unheard of locally.

"These people have beautiful micro-circulation," San Diego School of Medicine professor of cardiovascular Alan Maisel said to The Australian.

A poster boy for the theory, a cousin of Maria, Giuseppe Vassallo, 94, said the villagers learned the lay of the land during the way.

"We are the generation that had to eat what we found growing," he told The Australian.

"When you were bent double and hungry, harvesting olives, you could pick chicory and eat it.

"When you cooked it, you would save the water, which made a healthy drink."

The former fisherman, who smoked filterless cigarettes for 60 years, also has theories concerning another "secret" to youthfulness - sex.

 "My wife died seven years ago and one day I said: 'I need to find a woman.' Since then, girlfriends have helped me feel alive," he said to The Australian.

Luigi Buonadonna, a local ­doctor, said to The Australian: "When pensioners turn up at my surgery, I assume they are ill, but they are just keen to say hello and chat."

Professor Maisel does not believe rosemary alone guarantees longevity.

"It's not how old the locals they are, but how active they are," Acciaroli's Mayor, Stefano Pisani, 40, said to The Australian.

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