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Nutrition Epidemiology Highlights Review

Male longevity in Sardinia, a review of historical sources supporting a causal link with dietary factors

Abstract

The identification of a hot spot of exceptional longevity, the Longevity Blue Zone (LBZ), in the mountain population of Sardinia has aroused considerable interest toward its traditional food as one of the potential causal factors. This preliminary study on the traditional Sardinian diet has been supported by the literature available, which has been carefully reviewed and compared. Up to a short time ago, the LBZ population depended mostly upon livestock rearing, and consumption of animal-derived foods was relatively higher than in the rest of the island. The nutrition transition (NT) in urbanized and lowland areas began in the mid-1950s, fueled by economic development, whereas in the LBZ it started later owing to prolonged resistance to change by a society organized around a rather efficient pastoral economy. Even nowadays a large proportion of the population in this area still follows the traditional diet based on cereal-derived foods and dairy products. The LBZ cohorts comprising individuals who were of a mature age when NT began may have benefited both from the high-quality, albeit rather monotonous, traditional diet to which they had been exposed most of their life and from the transitional diet, which introduced positive changes such as more variety, increased consumption of fruits and vegetables and moderate meat intake. It could be speculated that these changes may have brought substantial health benefits to this particular aging group, which was in need of nutrient-rich food at this specific time in life, thereby resulting in a decreased mortality risk and, in turn, life-span extension.

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Acknowledgements

We are grateful to Dr Maria Rosaria Manunta of the Sassari University Library for her assistance in retrieving historical documents.

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Pes, G., Tolu, F., Dore, M. et al. Male longevity in Sardinia, a review of historical sources supporting a causal link with dietary factors. Eur J Clin Nutr 69, 411–418 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1038/ejcn.2014.230

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