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Greek Coffee May Help You Live Longer

03/21/2013 10:16 am ET | Updated Mar 22, 2013

So what's the key to longevity? Is it clean living? What about fasting or exercise or happiness? Actually, the key to long life may be something you are extremely familiar with that's right under your nose: a cup of coffee.

But not just any java. Researchers studying heart health say that a cup of Greek coffee each day may be the key to the longevity of people on the Greek island of Ikaria, who live to age 90 and older.

A "boiled Greek type of coffee, which is rich in polyphenols and antioxidants and contains only a moderate amount of caffeine, seems to gather benefits compared to other coffee beverages," said Dr. Gerasimos Siasos of the University of Athens Medical School in a written statement.

While only 0.1 percent of Europeans live to be 90 and older, the figure on Ikaria is 1 percent, regarded as one of the highest longevity rates in the world.

Even better, the islanders usually live out their long lives in good health, Siasos added.

Siasos and his team decided to zero in on coffee because recent studies suggest that moderate coffee consumption may slightly cut the risk of coronary heart disease while also positively impacting other aspects of health.

From a sample of 673 Ikarians age 65 and older who lived on the island permanently, the researchers randomly selected 71 men and 71 women to participate in the study, published this week in Vascular Medicine.

The researchers checked for high blood pressure, diabetes and other medical conditions and questioned them on their health, lifestyles and coffee drinking. They also made note of the participants' endothelial functioning (the endothelium is a layer of cells that lines blood vessels, which is impacted both by aging and by lifestyle habits such as smoking).

The researchers investigated all types of coffee taken by participants -- but 87 percent said they consumed boiled, Greek coffee everyday.

In the end, the study discovered that those consuming mainly boiled Greek coffee had improved endothelial functioning than those who drank other types of coffee.

But coffee in general seems to have health benefits. A study last year by the National Institute of Health and AARP found that people who drank coffee were a little more likely to live longer than those who didn't.

Meanwhile, in other good news from the Mediterranean, researchers have found out why exactly the consumption of extra virgin olive oil helps reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease. Indeed, a new study has found that one component of olive oil -- a substance called oleocanthal -- helps protect nerve cells from the kind of damage that occurs with Alzheimer's.

Alzheimer's affects about 30 million people worldwide, but the prevalence is less widespread in Mediterranean countries.

"Extra-virgin olive oil-derived oleocanthal associated with the consumption of the Mediterranean diet has the potential to reduce the risk of [Alzheimer's] or related neurodegenerative dementias," the report concluded.

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