With its beautiful coves, rocky cliffs, steep valleys and broken canopy of scrub and olive groves, Ikaria looks similar to any number of other Greek islands. But there is one vital difference: people here live much longer than the population on other islands and on the mainland. In fact, people here live on average 10 years longer than those in the rest of Europe and America — around one in three Ikarians lives into their 90s.
Not only that, but they also have much lower rates of cancer and heart disease, suffer significantly less depression and dementia, maintain a sex life into old age and remain physically active deep into their 90s. What is the secret of Ikaria? What do its inhabitants know that the rest of us don't? The island is named after Icarus, the young man in Greek mythology who flew too close to the sun and plunged into the sea, according to legend, close to Ikaria.
Thoughts of plunging into the sea are very much in my mind as the propeller plane from Athens comes in to land. Tall and athletic, year-old Buettner, who used to be a long-distance cyclist, looks a picture of well-preserved youth. He is a fellow with National Geographic magazine and became interested in longevity while researching Okinawa's aged population. He tells me there are several other passengers on the plane who are interested in Ikaria's exceptional demographics. One woman says her aunt is The problem for demographers with such claims is that they are often very difficult to stand up.
Going back to Methuselah, history is studded with exaggerations of age. In the last century, longevity became yet another battleground in the cold war. The Soviet authorities let it be known that people in the Caucasus were living deep into their hundreds.
But subsequent studies have shown these claims lacked evidential foundation. Since then, various societies and populations have reported advanced ageing, but few are able to supply convincing proof. None of those places has good birth certificates. However, Ikaria does. It has also been the subject of a number of scientific studies. Aside from the demographic surveys that Buettner helped organise, there was also the University of Athens' Ikaria Study.
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The locals also feast on locally grown and wild greens, some of which contain 10 times more antioxidants than are found in red wine, as well as potatoes and goat's milk. Chrysohoou thinks the food is distinct from that eaten on other Greek islands with lower life expectancy. Ikaria is still an isolated island, without tourists, which means that, especially in the villages in the north, where the highest longevity rates have been recorded, life is largely unaffected by the westernised way of living.
But she also refers to research that suggests the Ikarian habit of taking afternoon naps may help extend life. And, of those, a quarter did so with "good duration" and "achievement". Ever since Buettner set up with his research team here a few years back, Thea's Inn has been a sort of base camp for anyone looking to study the island's older population. Whatever household we enter over the next four days, even at the shortest notice, invariably produces the same appetising hospitality.
Yet Ikarians are far from wealthy. Nearly everyone grows their own food and many produce their own wine. There is also a strong tradition of solidarity among Ikarians. After the war, thousands of communists and leftists were exiled to the island, bringing an ideological underpinning to the Ikarians' instinct to share. As one of the island's few doctors told Buettner, "It's not a 'me' place. It's an 'us' place. Nearly all elderly Ikarians have a story of suffering, though few are keen to tell it.
Kostas Sponsas lost a leg in Albania, when he was blown up by a German shell. He was saved by fellow Ikarians, without whose help he would have died from loss of blood. He turns this month and is more mobile than many younger men with two legs. Each day he pays a visit to the office of the shop he set up decades ago.
It rests my mind. He was determined not to get depressed after losing his leg as a young man, instead remembering his grandfather's advice. In terms of longevity, it was wise counsel. Depression, sadness, loneliness, stress — they can and do take a decade off our lives. Sponsas's own tips for a long life are that he never eats food fried with butter, always sleeps well and with the window open, avoids eating too much meat, drinks herb tea — mint or sage — and makes sure to have a couple of glasses of red wine with his food.
Family is a vital part of Ikarian culture and every old person I visit has children and grandchildren actively involved in their lives. Eleni Mazari, an estate agent on the island and a repository of local knowledge, says, "We keep the old people with us. There is an old people's home, but the only people there are those who have lost all their family. It would shame us to put an old person in a home. That's the reason for longevity. Just a minute's walk from his house in the picturesque port of Evdilos is the spotless home of Evangelia Karnava. In Ikaria, if you ask people their age, the answer they give is the year they were born.
Karnava, a tiny but formidable woman, was born in She radiates a fierce energy, gesticulating like a politician on the stump. She lost two baby girls to starvation during the war but she's not someone haunted by tragedy. Instead, she speaks of her three children, seven grandchildren, four great-grandchildren and her great-great-grandchild. She certainly looks as if she's fit for a good few years yet. She cleans her own flat and goes shopping every day. What's her secret?
Your doctor will probably recommend keeping a supply at home. Colchicine can interact with several other drugs, including statins taken for high cholesterol. However, they can also be taken as an injection into a muscle or joint affected by gout. This can be particularly helpful if gout is affecting only one joint. There are drugs available that can lower urate levels, prevent new crystals from forming and dissolve away the crystals in your joints.
They are called urate lowering therapies or ULTs for short. It can take a few months or years for the drugs to completely clear your body of urate crystals. You could actually have more attacks within the first six months of starting them. As the drugs start dissolving the crystals, they become smaller and are more likely to get into the joint cavity, triggering an attack.
ULTs are usually life-long treatments and require yearly check-ups to monitor your urate levels. Try not to miss or skip any of your doses, especially in the first year or two of starting treatment. This could cause your urate levels to go up and down, which could trigger an attack. Allopurinol is the most commonly used ULT. Allopurinol is broken down and removed from the body through your kidneys, so if you have a problem with your kidneys, it may not be suitable for you.
Your doctor might decide to start you on an even lower dose and increase slowly, or suggest that you try febuxostat instead. Febuxostat is a newer drug that reduces the amount of urate made in the body in the same way that allopurinol does.
Febuxostat is more likely to trigger gout attacks than allopurinol when you first start treatment. Uricosuric drugs, which include sulfinpyrazone, benzbromarone and probenecid, work by flushing out more urate than normal through your kidneys. This is because, by encouraging your kidneys to filter more urate, they also increase the risk of developing kidney stones. Uricosuric drugs are usually used on their own. If your gout has caused damage to your joints, then the treatments available will be the same as those used for osteoarthritis. They include:.
Visit our osteoarthritis page to find out more about treatments available for joint damage. This will then decrease the chances of you having attacks of gout. Exercise is extremely important, not only to reduce the chances of an attack, but also for your general health and wellbeing. Exercises that get you out of breath are particularly good for burning calories. You could try dancing, walking in hilly countryside or doubles tennis.
It helps to find a sport or exercise you enjoy which you enjoy and will keep doing. Some people find joining a leisure centre or sports club to be really fun and motivational. You should avoid exercising during a flare up of gout, as it could make your pain worse. You should try to have a well-balanced diet that is low in fats and added sugars, but high in vegetables and fibre. Extreme weight loss or starvation diets increase cell breakdown in your body, which can raise urate levels.
However, you should be OK to do some daytime fasting - for example, during Ramadan. The NHS has a good diet and exercise plan which can help you lose weight in a healthy way over 12 weeks. You should try to avoid eating large quantities of foods that are high in purines. Protein is an important part of your diet, but you can get it from sources other than just meat and fish. You could try replacing a portion of meat with other protein-rich foods like soybeans, eggs, pulses or dairy products. The UK Gout Society has a detailed food list of foods high in purines.
Check out their diet factsheet for more information. If you have gout and a history of kidney stones, you should try to drink at least two litres of water a day to decrease the chance of stones forming. Sweetened soft drinks should be avoided, as they contain large amounts of sugar and can increase the risk of getting gout. While fruit and fresh fruit juices contain sugar, the benefits of eating fruit are likely to far outweigh any negatives.
Reducing how much sugar you consume from other sources is a heathier option than cutting out some of your five a day. Drinking too much alcohol, especially beer and spirits, can increase your urate levels and your chances of triggering a gout attack. Beer is particularly bad, as it contains a lot of purines. As a rule of thumb, try to stick to the government guidelines of drinking no more than 14 units a week. This is equivalent to about 6 pints of beer or 6 glasses of wine.
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You can find out more about government drinking guidelines at drinkaware. Research has shown that vitamin C may slightly reduce uric acid levels in people with gout. This is another reason to make sure your diet includes plenty of fruit and vegetables. Research has shown that cherries may reduce the risk of having an acute attack of gout, particularly when taken with allopurinol. Research suggests drinking skimmed milk and eating low-fat yoghurt may help to prevent attacks of gout. If you decide to try complementary and alternative treatments, you should be critical of whether they are making a difference to your condition.
The emotional effects of gout can have just as much impact as the physical symptoms. Long term damage and severe pain from the attacks of gout can affect your daily life, disturb your sleep and affect your mood. From time to time, your gout may get on top of you. You can also call our helpline on , who will listen and offer emotional support. Work can provide a sense of purpose, a supportive social network, and help you financially. Most people with gout can continue working, but you may need some time off when you have an attack.
Your employer has a duty to make reasonable adjustments so that you can do your job. Your local Jobcentre Plus can also put you in touch with Disability Employment Advisors, who can arrange workplace assessments. Access to Work is a scheme in Scotland, England and Wales that gives extra help to people with disabilities or physical and mental health conditions. There is a separate scheme available in Northern Ireland. Access to Work provides funded or partly-funded grants to help people start work, stay in work, or move into self-employment, and can be used to pay for equipment, support workers, or transport, among other things.
Research is greatly increasing our understanding of what triggers gout and how new therapies may be developed to treat it. Our research has found a more successful way of treating people with gout. We funded a clinical trial in which nurses, trained in gout and its management, delivered a package of care tailored to patients. It provided information on gout and its treatment options, and involved patients in decision making. Versus Arthritis is also currently funding a research project to help design a full-scale clinical trial looking at whether omega-3 fatty acids , which are found in fish oils, can be used alongside ULTs to prevent gout attacks.
The results could reduce gout attacks and overcome the unwanted side effects that some people experience when starting on ULTs. The only way I could get around was on all fours and crawl. I was only a year into my thirties. I put it to the back of my mind and carried on as I always had. It happened after a game of football. My ankle was so puffy that my foot looked like a joint of meat. Even the weight of the bed sheets was enough to keep me up at night.
At the time I was on my 12th year of doing deliveries for the Royal Mail. Getting my round done every morning was becoming a struggle. To my colleagues it was all a big joke. So, I went back to my doctor. After another 10 years of walking the beat for the Royal Mail, I decided It was time to get a desk job.
Soon after this I had to make another trip to the doctors for my hands. But fuck, it was pretty much miraculous how quickly it all stopped. The last four years have been fantastic. We explain which foods are most likely to help and how to lose weight if you need to.
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I can suggest exercises and tell you about medication. I've been built using artificial intelligence powered by IBM Watson, and I learn and improve through every conversation. Whenever you use me, you're indirectly helping another person get the answers they need. I respond best to clear, simple questions about one type of arthritis.
For example, "What exercises should I do? If you need help from a real person here at Versus Arthritis, you can call our free helpline on Your conversation will not be visible the next time you visit the Arthritis Virtual Assistant. If you want to keep a copy of the advice you've been given, you can print it using the button at the top of the chat window.
If you would like to share any additional feedback with us, please email supportercare versusarthritis. The AVA provides general information. If you need more information or have any concerns, speak to a healthcare professional. Call us for free help and advice on your type of arthritis. Calls are recorded for quality purposes. Versus Arthritis About arthritis Conditions Gout. Share on Facebook Tweet LinkedIn.
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What is gout? Gout is a very painful form of arthritis caused by crystals that form in and around the joints. Symptoms Attacks When you have gout, urate crystals can build up in your joints for years without you knowing they are there. During an attack of gout the affected joint becomes: very painful tender red hot swollen. The skin over the joint often appears shiny and may peel off a little as the attack settles.
The attack usually settles after about five to seven days, but it can go on for longer. If gout is left untreated, attacks can become more common and may spread to new joints. Although gout most often affects the big toe, other joints may also be affected, including: other joints in your feet ankles knees elbows wrists fingers.
Tophi Urate crystals can also collect outside of the joints and can be seen under the skin, forming small, firm lumps called tophi. The most common areas for tophi are: over the top of the toes back of the heel front of the knee backs of the fingers and wrists around the elbow the ears. Causes There are two different types of gout. Secondary gout can be caused by either: chronic kidney disease long-term use of medications that affect how well your kidneys can remove urate from your body.
Being overweight Gout is much more common in people who are overweight. These conditions can all lower how much urate is filtered out by your kidneys. Gender and age Gout is about four times more common in men than women.
Other conditions Several different conditions are linked to raised urate levels. For some conditions, the link with gout is less clear, and may be due to many different factors. Common conditions associated with gout include: chronic kidney disease high cholesterol and fats in the blood high blood pressure type 2 diabetes osteoarthritis. What can trigger a gout attack? These include: a knock or injury to the joint an illness that may make you feverish having an operation having an unusually large meal, especially a fatty meal drinking too much alcohol dehydration starting urate lowering therapy, especially at a high dose, or not taking your treatment regularly each day.