By Aly Walansky
Updated March 31, 2016
Credit: Kieran Scott/ Getty Images

The Mediterranean diet has long received attention for its health benefits, but a new study is closely examining the exemplary health of a particular region in Italy and believes rosemary may play a role.

Scientists from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine are joining forces with those at the University of Rome La Sapienza to study 300 subjects, all over 100 years old, all from a small remote Italian village.

Residents of Acciaroli are known to have very low rates of heart disease or Alzheimer’s and well exceed the expected life expectancy of 83 years for Italians. They also eat a lot of rosemary, and researchers are wondering if their diet is contributing to their longevity.

“We are the first group of researchers to be given permission to study this population in Acciaroli, Italy,” said Alan Maisel, MD, lead UC San Diego School of Medicine investigator and professor of medicine in the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine, in a media release. “The goal of this long-term study is to find out why this group of 300 is living so long by conducting a full genetic analysis and examining lifestyle behaviors, like diet and exercise,” said Maisel. “The results from studying the longevity of this group could be applied to our practice at UC San Diego and to patients all over the world.”

Of course, there are many factors. Yes, their diet is highly infused with rosemary – a very healthy herb – but they are also engaging in long hikes in the mountains to get this rosemary. That exercise could also be a major contributor to their healthy old age, says one expert. “The Mediterranean diet and lifestyle as a whole has been shown to be heart-healthy and protective against type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, and dementia. It's hard to know whether one aspect of the diet in particular accounts for these effects or whether it's a combination of all the elements - increased consumption of fruits and vegetables, plant foods, fish, olive oil as primary fat source, moderate amounts of wine, and generally greater amounts of physical activity (folks living in smaller villages tend to walk more). It will be interesting to see if the researchers find anything specific to rosemary that may be leading to the longer life span of the residents of this small village,” says Jessica Fishman Levinson, registered dietitian, nutritionist and founder of Nutritioulicious.

So, go ahead and add extra rosemary to that roasted chicken this weekend. It’s delicious and while we don’t know if it will add years on to your life, it certainly won’t hurt.