Posted on May 18th, 2009 2 comments
I wish I could say we are the first ones to break the story that Ikaria is perhaps the world’s premier health destination but I’m afraid I’ve been beat to the punch—by at least two thousand years.
Since at least the 500 BC. Ikaria has been known to the ancient Greeks and Romans as a place for rejuvenation and healing. The nexus of all of this health was found on the southwestern tip of the island in a town of Therma and the famous radioactive baths that flank the town on both sides.
During Week One, our team focused heavily on diet and lifestyle as explanations to why people are reaching age 90 in higher proportions here than just about anyplace else. We explored role of purpose, religion and even taking afternoon naps. Today, we’ll explore Ikaria’s famous baths and see if they might still be imparting health to the 10,000 hearty souls on this island.
First off, the baths are found only in the southwestern corner of the island, near the town of Arghios Kiliioso. To the east, steaming water burbles out of the ground in a series of caves that billow with steam. Local opportunists have enclosed the caves and commercialized the waters. For a few dollars, you can buy your way in and sit enveloped in “healing” vapors.
Just west of town, anyone with the courage to descend the steep switchbacks down a precarious cliff can bathe for free, right where rocky beach meets the cobalt blue waters of the Aegean. A crescent of boulders encloses a small pool where hot mineral water and cold seawater mix to create a tepid bath.
As Dr. Anthony Papalas, wrote in his book, “Ancient Icaria”, Romans, were the first recorded visitors to the baths. They believed that these waters relieved pain as well as cured partial paralysis. Today, they mostly draw people who suffer from rheumatism, arthritis and skin ailments. We interviewed an orthopedist on the island who cited hundreds of cases wherein patients found relief from bone and joint pain. (I should also note that a therapist of traditional Oriental medicines sent me an email claiming that consecutive bath soakings cured her of several cancers and tumor and bettered her eyesight.)
But of course, our big question is: do the baths have anything to do with Ikaria’s longevity?
Radon is the key ingredient in these baths. Radon is a hugely dangerous radioactive mineral that the earth emits constantly. When inhaled, it can penetrate the lung’s lining and “ionize” cells—essentially scrambling the DNA and potentially provoking cancer. In fact, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S. Radon not only issues from the baths but from the entire island. Several schools and houses in the northeastern part of have been tested for radon and they all report high levels.
How could high levels of radon explain longevity? A few papers published in the The British Journal of Radiology [both in Issue 78 (2005)] argue that constant low level exposure to radiation can actually be helpful in repairing out DNA—a process call radiation hormesis. The argument is complicated but it is essentially analogous to how trace elements in small amount are good for us (copper, zinc, selenium, etc.) but are toxic in high dosages.
So, if Ikarians are constantly dosed with low levels of Radon radiation, could it explain healthier DNA? Most nuclear scientist would say no, that radiation at all levels is bad. But you never know. For many years, scientists believed that the world was flat.Longevity Afternoon Naps, Ancient Greeks, Ancient Icaria, Billow, Bone And Joint Pain, Cold Seawater, Dr Anthony, Greeks And Romans, Healing Stones, Hearty Souls, hormesis, jay gutierrez, low level radiation, nighthawkminerals, Orthopedist, Partial Paralysis, Premier Health, radiation, Radiation Hormesis, Rheumatism Arthritis, Rocky Beach, Skin Ailments, Southwestern Corner, Southwestern Tip, Steep Switchbacks, Tepid Bath, Therma Top