“How long do I have to live? Because I have work to do,” told high-spirited Stamatis Moraitis to his doctors when he was diagnosed with lung cancer in his 60s. The answer “6 to 9 months” did not satisfy him. Stamatis’s homeland was a Greek island of Ikaria, and it has become famous as the island where people “forget to die.” Stamatis refused chemotherapy or any medications. And because funeral costs in the U.S. (where he moved in 1943 for treatment of a combat arm injury) was too expensive, he went back to Ikaria.
“I found my friends in the village where I was born, and we started drinking. I thought, at least I’ll die happy,” he said.
His wife and he started to wait for the day. But the day did not come, and Stamatis only felt stronger. About 40 years later he went back to the U.S. to find his doctors, but they were long dead. Stamatis lived until the age of 98 or as he claims 102. He lived so long, he has forgotten his true age.
Until he died, he drank 2 to 3 glasses of wine daily, worked, and was in good health.
“I’m no doctor, but I think the wine helped,” he laughed in an interview. He continued: “I’ve done nothing else except eat pure food, [drink] pure wine, [take] pure herbs.”
Watch an interview with him, where he speaks about his health journey:
Stamatis said he drank wine every day, but not the commercial wine, which is full of pesticides and sulfites. Instead he made 700 liters a year to share with his friends or drank local. When wine is made with no preservatives from organic grapes, it has a surprising amount of health benefits including anticancer properties, studies show.
Resveratrol, a compound found in grapes, has been linked to cancer prevention and cancer treatment.
One review of multiple studies concluded that “that resveratrol is a promising candidate in chemopreventive and chemotherapeutic strategies and a potential weapon in the effort to alleviate the burden of human cancer.”
Not only have grapes and wine been linked to cancer-prevention in general, a 2014 study showed potential for red wine to inhibit lung cancer cell growth. The study calls for more research, but based on current research of red wine and resveratrol, it is possible that Stamatis’s love for wine helped is just one way his body was able get rid of his lung cancer.
Being surrounded by friends, staying active, and healing himself emotionally probably played a key role in his recovery as well, as anyone who’s overcome cancer or other serious health issues knows to be true.
Buckets of Olive Oil
Stamatis shared in the interview above his appreciation for olive oil and its health benefits. His wife and he cooked only with it, and avoided butter completely.
As it happens, olive oil has a cancer-killing compound of its own, called oleocanthal. One study showed that it has an affect on cancer cells in as little as 30 minutes. And just like red wine, it has as shown significant results against lung cancer when consumed excessively.
(Editor’s note: there is much debate about how healthy olive oil is for cooking at higher temperatures; some recommend it only for lower temperatures while others say otherwise [more info here]; oils like coconut and organic avocado oil have higher smoke points and may be more suitable for high temps).
Pure Air and Water
One last thing that Stamatis named as one of the reasons for his recovery is pure environment: clear water and air. Not only has pure air been associated with lung cancer prevention and recovery, Stamatis’s home, the island of Ikaria, is one of the blue zones, which have been named the cleanest places on Earth where people get sick less and live longer.
Blue Zones: the Island of Ikaria and Others
People in Ikaria live at least 10 years longer than other Europeans. One of the reasons is that Ikaria is in the blue zone, just like Okinawan Islands of Japan, Loma Linda in California, Sardinia in Italy and Nicoya in Costa Rica.
Blue zones are areas on Earth where groups of people live on average much longer than anywhere else and often reach 100. They also tend to be happier.
In Ikaria, people live at least 8 years longer than Americans, and they get 20% less cancer, 50% less heart disease, and almost never experience dementia.
In the 17th century local bishop Joseph Georgirenes described Ikaria:
“The most commendable thing on this island,” he wrote, “is their air and water, both so healthful that people are very long-lived, it being an ordinary thing to see persons in it of 100 years of age.”
Not much has changed since then. The island has been studied by many scientists and researchers, and proved to be a “fountain of youth.” The reasons are multiple: clean environment, healthy diet, plenty of sleep, use of herbal teas, and a strong sense of family and community.
As Blue zones research summarizes: “[Ikarian people] enjoy wine, late-night domino games, and an easygoing pace of life. The clean air, warm climate and rugged terrain keep residents active and outdoors.”
Ikaria shows that there is no one secret to a long life, instead it is a combination of things that make it the island “where people forget to die.” Stamatis did — living until 98 and outliving a cancer diagnosis by almost four decades and without treatment is a life well lived.