The Example of Vilcabamba Tells Us What Not to Do, and What We Should Do Instead

aa-10.jpgAnti-aging supplements, organic food and a clean, healthy life style is the message from this once-idyllic Ecuadorean mountain valley where almost everyone lived past 100.

For nearly one hundred years, the Valley of Vilcabamba in south-eastern Ecuador has been the focus of interest from anti-aging scientists around the globe. Once known as the home of more healthy, active centenarians per capita than anywhere in the world, Vilcabamba is now a mere remnant of the past, a place where ‘los Viejos’ (the old men) are increasingly hard to find, a place where studies of anti-aging can now easily see how modern western civilization as we know it destroys longevity rather than contributes to it.

Since the early part of the last century, visiting scientists researched the valley’s climate, geography, soil and water conditions, food and eating habits, recreational activities, personal relationships, and the remarkably healthy bodies of the people — many of whom, even at 90, 100 and beyond, had the bone strength and density of teenagers, a situation unique in the world and scientifically more important even than their advanced age.

When Japanese scientists came to Vilcabamba to study ‘los Viejos,’ they were most impressed with the valley’s negatively-charged air, caused in part by the frequent electrical storms. Negative ionization is an accepted adjunct in many Japanese hospitals, because it produces that fresh, clear feeling to the air that we sense right after a rainstorm, and is considered therapeutic. The scientists decided that ‘the old men’ live long in Vilcabamba because the purified air produces a chelating effect on their bodies. The word chelating, as it was used here, is concerned with converting minerals into a more biologically available form.

American scientists decided that the secret to the Valley’s longevity was the perfect mineral balance of the drinking water. Then some French scientists considered that the chelating effect came from the moderate climate — the people’s metabolisms didn’t have to adjust to temperature extremes, so that energy could be used to eliminate toxins from their bodies, leading to longer, healthier lives. Finally, a Spanish scientist got the idea that the locals’ longevity was because they ate a lot of a local yucca root, which absorbed high concentration of minerals from the water.

Vilcabamba means Sacred Valley in an ancient Incan dialect called Quichua. It is made from the words ‘huilco’ meaning ‘sacred’ or ‘God’, and ‘bamba’ meaning simply ‘valley.’ There’s still some magical qualities to be found by visitors to the Vilcabamba, but the inevitable has occurred.

Following decades of scientific inquiries, the publicity grew. Then came visitors, intrigued by the stories of the old ones. From there it was only natural that a local tourism industry would spring up. And the rest, as they say, is history.

The beautiful valley that sits some 5,000 feet above sea level, running across the province of Loja and up into the Andes Mountains, has attracted everything that is antithetical to a long, healthy life — fast food, industry and unhealthy lifestyles. Along with much of the organically-farmed local produce, the numbers of old people have all but disappeared. The mineral-rich waters of the Vilcabamba river and its crystal clear tributaries are still there, as is the valley’s pure, clear ionized air. But even these are beginning to suffer from the influx of modern civilization.

The results of the world’s fascination with anything that promises to reveal the secrets of anti-aging now are obvious: The popular life style of the so-called modern civilized world has nothing to offer anti-aging research — except, what not to do. For the growing army of people intrigued by anti-aging research and motivated to use for themselves what information they can find, the example of Vilcabamba delivers a clear message. Clean up our life styles, deal with environmental pollution, and switch to real organic produce and anti-aging supplements to replace the nutrients that have been lost or corrupted in our food supply through our so-called modern, scientific chemical farming.

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